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Highest earner is in it for the joy

Self-confessed workaholic Alistair Falk is the highest-paid state headteacher in the country on a salary and benefits package of around pound;120,000 - almost double the pound;69,300 maximum a Scottish head could expect to earn under the teachers' agreement.

Mr Falk, head of West London Academy in Ealing, which opened on Monday, is bemused by media interest in his pay packet. "I applied for this job because it was a fabulous opportunity, not because of the salary, which is actually a bit of a pressure. I love working with kids and being in the classroom. You never know what's going to happen next. I live and breathe education."

But the 49-year-old believes there is a big difference between education and schooling. "Schooling starts and stops at the school gate," Mr Falk said. "Education doesn't. It's about preparing people for what happens at the next stage, about thinking beyond the confines of the curriculum."

West London Academy was founded on the idea that learning is a lifelong process. It is funded by the Department for Education and Skills and governed by a group of trustees chaired by Sir Alec Reed, founder of recruitment firm Reed Executive.

The academy replaces Compton school, one of the poorest performing secondaries in London. Forty-four per cent of pupils are entitled to free school meals, and a large number do not have English as their first language.

At West London Academy it is the teachers who get up and move classroom at the sound of the bell, not the students. The idea is to encourage the students to take ownership of their environment.

Mr Falk has spent most of his 30-year career in faith education. From 1992 to 2002 he was head of King Solomon High, a voluntary-aided Jewish comprehensive in the London borough of Redbridge. His wife Judi was an assistant head there.

"She's the only person I didn't appoint," he said. "It was halfway through the first term before anyone asked: 'You're not related to Mr Falk, are you?'"

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