Some academy trust chief executives are cutting their own salaries by up to 40 per cent because of funding pressures and concerns about sending the right message to staff, Tes can reveal.
The news follows mounting controversy about the big salaries and pay rises enjoyed by many academy leaders.
And it comes amid calls for a more structured approach to academy executive pay. Critics of the current system are arguing for an external body to tackle the issue, while one coalition of multi-academy trusts in the North of England is considering introducing “self-regulation”.
Debbie Godfrey-Phaure, the chief executive of Avonbourne International Business and Enterprise Academy Trust – which runs two secondary schools, a primary and a sixth-form college in Bournemouth – has reduced her salary because of financial pressures at her trust.
She has gone from earning £150,000-£155,000 in 2016, to a salary of £88,913 since June 2017 – a drop of more than 40 per cent.
Professor Chris Shiel, chair of directors at the trust, told Tes: “Like many schools and multi-academy trusts, Avonbourne Trust has been examining ways to make efficiencies as pressures on education budgets grow. This is a nationwide picture.
“The CEO of the trust took an individual decision, which is permanent…to voluntarily reduce her hours and salary as an efficiency measure. No other individual in the trust has taken a similar decision.
“In reality, the CEO still works full-time hours. We are grateful for their ongoing commitment and hard work on behalf of the trust.”
Avonbourne, which in April 2017 received a financial notice to improve from the Education and Skills Funding Agency, had a “difficult year, where the impact of financial pressures has made itself felt”, according to its 2016-17 accounts.
Pressures included rising employment costs, below-capacity schools and the cost of opening and running a new primary school, the accounts add.
However, it is not the only trust where the CEO has cut or held down their pay.
At the Carmel Education Trust, which runs four primary and three secondary schools in County Durham, chief executive Maura Regan has also asked for her salary to be reduced.
According to the trust’s accounts, her salary has decreased from £155,000-£160,000 in 2015 to £130,000-£135,000 in 2017.
Does self-regulation on pay really work?
And Outwood Grange, which runs 22 academies across the North East, Yorkshire and the East Midlands, the remuneration of the chief executive has also gone down.
Sir Michael Wilkins, the founding chief executive of the trust, who retired in September 2016, saw his remuneration decline from £201,000 in 2014-15 to £173,000 in 2015-16.
The current CEO, Martyn Oliver, is paid less still, at £168,675. Mr Oliver turned down a formal written offer of a pay increase following his last performance review, and the trust’s executives have voluntarily refused an annual cost-of-living increase for three years.
“I understand that, as CEO of 22 academies, I am paid well,” Mr Oliver said. “However, the trust’s ultimate wish is to be able to improve the pay of staff at the lower salary bands across the organisation.
“For me, ensuring that pay restraint is exercised at the highest executive level is a significant and symbolic step towards achieving this goal.”
While some CEOs have voluntarily restrained their pay, former members of the STRB, which advises the government on teacher pay, said that MAT executive remuneration should come within the body’s remit.
“Like [university] vice-chancellor pay – if you leave it to executive boards or trustees, they can, and do, end up paying salaries that are far too high to be coming out of taxpayers’ money,” said Peter Dolton, who served on the STRB between 2009 and 2011.
But Mr Martyn suggested MATs themselves could oversee a more structured approach to executive pay. “There are system leaders and people who have got other MAT CEOs working around them – and alliances – we can start to create a sense of self-regulation,” he said.
He added that the Northern Alliance, which was set up last year by five MATs in the region, could "sit around a table" to talk about creating an extended pay scale.
Libby Nicholas, chief executive of Astrea, another trust in the alliance, told Tes: "Collaborative groups like the Northern Alliance already share benchmarking data and have a role to play in developing best practice and guidance for trusts."
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, welcomed pay restraint from MAT CEOs as a “very good thing”. But she warned: “Self-regulation in pay levels rarely seems to me to work effectively. Too often it becomes a rather cosy cartel of, ‘Well, I’m worth it, how about you?'"
This is an edited version of an article in the 12 January edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click here. This week's Tes magazine is available at all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click here.