Exclusive: The secret deals behind rocketing school CEO pay

Academy trusts refuse to reveal why they have awarded chief executives salary hikes up to ten times bigger than the average teacher's

Will Hazell

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Calls have been made to lift the “secrecy” surrounding decisions to award academy chain chief executives percentage pay rises up to 10 times bigger than the average teacher’s.

A Tes investigation encountered a near universal refusal from academy trusts to provide details of why they gave their chiefs large salary hikes.

Chair of the influential Commons Public Accounts Committee, Meg Hillier, described the Tes findings as “amazing” and said she was concerned about trusts’ lack of transparency.

“They need to bear in mind very, very firmly that this is not other people’s money, this is taxpayers’ money,” the MP said.

Tes approached 10 academy trusts and one federation of maintained schools, whose chief executives earned more than the prime minister and whose pay rose last year.

The increases – 18 per cent in one case, and between 14.6 and 20 per cent in another – took place against a backdrop of a national 2 per cent cap on the pay rise for teachers in 2015-16, which fell to just 1 per cent in 2016-17.

All of the school groups were asked if they paid their teachers any higher than the national pay-rise figure and none said that they had.

Each were asked to set out the process for making their chief executive’s pay award, and the basis upon which the rise was justified. All but one refused to share any of their chief executive’s performance objectives and all but two failed to give any of the metrics that the executives were judged against.

Kevin Courtney, general secretary of the NUT teaching union, said: “As in many private companies, the determination of the pay of these chief executives is shrouded in secrecy and it shouldn’t be. It’s public money.”

The union leader added that “real transparency” about academy pay policies was “vital”.

The stance of school groups contrasts with the civil service, which has published annual objectives for its permanent secretaries – and how progress against each objective will be measured – since 2012.

Employment experts have warned that if executive pay rises are out of kilter with the rest of the workforce and not properly explained, they can have a demotivating effect on staff.

Six of the school groups said they used remuneration committees to decide executive pay, but only one revealed the identities of committee members when asked.

There are no government rules or guidance on how executive and leadership pay should be set by academies.

According to the National Governors’ Association, the Department for Education was developing benchmarking data on leadership pay but abandoned the project because it did not want to appear too prescriptive.

Emma Knights, the association’s chief executive, branded some high pay levels as “a failure of governance” and called for limits to how long school chairs of governors could serve, to prevent them from becoming too close to senior leaders.

“Sometimes we think there should be a little bit more distance,” she said.

The pay rises were awarded amid some of the toughest school budgets in years. But the latest published accounts for academy trusts suggest austerity has yet to feed through to executive pay.

Sir Craig Tunstall, the chief executive of Gipsy Hill Federation, a group of nine local authority schools in south London, earned £330,394 in 2015-16, according to Lambeth Council’s accounts.

This represented an 18 per cent increase of more than £50,000 compared with the previous year. The federation failed to respond to repeated requests to set out how that increase was justified.

A spokesman for Lambeth Council said that it was “seeking reassurance” from the governing body that the pay package complied with regulations and national guidance

A DfE spokesman said that it was “for governing bodies to determine the salary that school leaders will be paid”.

“It is vital we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards,” he said. “That’s why we have given all schools greater flexibility to set staff pay.”

This is an edited version of an article in the 24 March edition of the new look Tes. Subscribers can read the full story here. To subscribe, click here. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTes magazine is available at all good newsagents.

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Will Hazell

Will Hazell

Will Hazell is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @whazell

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