College interim leader earned £143,000 for seven months' work

Elaine McMahon was interim principal when Kensington and Chelsea College's planned merger was called off

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An interim principal who ran a college for a period during which a proposed merger was called off earned £143,000 for seven months of work, it has emerged.

That means Elaine McMahon, who was interim principal at Kensington and Chelsea College, received over £20,000 per month. Had she stayed a year, her pay would have been £245,142. That makes her one of the highest paid principals in the country in this period, despite being at a small college with an income of just £8.59 million in 2017-18.

Kensington and Chelsea College employed Ms McMahon as interim principal for a period of seven months from 24 July 2017 to 23 February 2018. According to the college’s financial statement, her total payments for the period were £143,000.

Ms McMahon took up the helm at the college at a time of significant uncertainty. Former principal Mark Brickley, who had joined Kensington and Chelsea College as principal in September 2013, resigned with immediate effect in 2016. He was succeeded by interim principal Michele Sutton. However, Ms Sutton stepped down in 2017 for family reasons, and Ms McMahon then took over.


Read more: Number of colleges paying leaders over £200k rises

More news: AoC eyes crackdown on high principal pay

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Merger called off

At the time, the college was involved in merger talks with neighbouring Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College. However, the merger was called off in January 2018 following a diagnostic assessment by FE commissioner Richard Atkins, who was called in by skills minister Anne Milton following concerns expressed by the local community in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster. These focused on the effect of the proposed merger on provision at the college’s Wornington Road site in North Kensington. At the time, the college reported an underlying operating deficit of around £3 million. 

A spokesperson for the University and College Union said: “The further education sector is working to try and make the case for better funding for our colleges. Massive salaries doled out to a few at the top undermine that case and emphasise why so many UCU members have taken action demanding fairer pay. We need better scrutiny of pay at the top of the sector and better pay for everyone else. Colleges should be working with us to make that happen.”

'Sector market conditions'

Ms McMahon has also worked as interim principal at City College Coventry, Edinburgh College and Harlow College. She is currently interim principal at Cornwall College. 

A spokesman for Kensington and Chelsea College said the principal was remunerated “in line with the prevailing sector market conditions and the board’s requirement to attract a suitably experienced leader, and was in fact paid at the same rate as the previous interim principal, who had to leave KCC at relatively short notice in July 2017 for personal reasons”.

He added: “The decision to plan for merger with Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College was taken by the board prior to this appointment. The subsequent decision in January 2018 not to progress the merger was based on the recommendation of the FE commissioner’s office.”

In October, the college took the unusual step of apologising for a "shameful" £28 million campus sale. Following an independent review, it concluded that the sale of its Wornington Road site was "plainly wrong".

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