The Department for Education is refusing to reveal which single-school academy trusts are paying leaders more than £150,000 despite having financial problems, because it does not want them placed under "undue pressure" and says they need a "safe space".
Last month the department's Education and Skills Funding Agency wrote to 29 standalone academy trusts that have paid leaders such salaries. Of those trusts, 13 were "at risk of financial difficulties" and were asked to explain their "rationale".
However, the DfE refused to name any of the trusts concerned.
Now, in a response to a Freedom of Information request by Tes, the ESFA has listed all 29 trusts. But it has declined to specify which of them are the 13 that paid high salaries while facing financial problems, angering a teaching union which is calling for more accountability over the spending of public money.
The department's FOI response states: "While there is a public interest in holding the government to account over its spending and holding academy executives to account over their financial management, it would be unfair to disclose this information.
"Disclosing the information could imply to the relevant trusts that communication with the ESFA is not a safe space and place undue pressure on trusts and or the ESFA to act on a complex issue.
"This could have a prejudicial effect on the ESFA’s ability to work with trusts on issues of pay and financial management, and prevent free and frank discussion."
Lack of transparency
But National Education Union joint general secretary Mary Bousted said the trusts should be named.
She told Tes: "Academies don't need a safe space, they need proper accountability. Schools don't get a safe space when they're in danger of getting a bad Ofsted judgement.
"This is public money and it's taxpayers' money. If there are academy trusts at risk of financial difficulty, we need to know who they are as, not only does that have implications for the pupils, it has an impact on staff.
"If there are academies in financial difficulties paying their chief executives £150,000, there's a public interest argument [to know]."
The lack of transparency in the academies sector has frequently come under fire. Tes has previously revealed how information used by regional schools commissioners and headteacher boards to help decide the fate of schools and academies is routinely withheld from the public.
And the lack of openness about the rationale used by academy trusts to justify high salaries is a particular area of concern for critics including Meg Hillier, chair of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee.
The 29 trusts that received the letters are below:
Source: Education and Skills Funding Agency Freedom of Information response to Tes.