Principals’ pay drops as colleges feel the pinch

The salary of the highest-paid principal doubles to £363K – but overall pay levels for college leaders decrease

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Pay for college principals has fallen overall, an analysis by TES reveals, with the squeeze being attributed to the sector’s funding pressures.

While the number of college principals earning more than £200,000 trebled to 12 in 2013-14, that figure dropped by almost half to just seven in 2014-15 according to the new statistics, published by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).

The best-paid FE leader in England was Sunaina Mann, principal and chief executive of the North East Surrey College of Technology (Nescot) Group, whose salary in 2014-15 was £363,000 according to the college – more than double the £150,000 that she received the previous year.

But analysis of the latest figures reveals that the average reported salary dropped slightly to just over £123,000. Overall, the total spent by colleges on pay for their principals decreased by around £1 million from the previous year. However, data for a number of colleges was not included in the SFA document, meaning the final figures are liable to change.

And with area reviews likely to lead to a severely reduced number of chief executive roles as colleges across the country look to form mergers and federations to make financial savings, experts have warned that the picture will become even more complex.

Sir Geoff Hall, the general secretary of the Principals’ Professional Council, said: "The overall drop in pay is surely a product of the age of austerity and of governors being cautious, and understandably so.

"But I’d have thought that some of these mega-colleges [which are expected to be formed through the area reviews] are going to have to pay large amounts to their leaders; if you put large colleges together, you’ve got to pay [the new chief executive] more than either of their principals are getting."

Leadership changes

The college leadership landscape is also likely to evolve in the next few years, Sir Geoff added, with some large college groups expected to be operating across a number of college sites.

These would be likely to be headed up by a group chief executive, with principals working under them with responsibility for individual campuses.

"For younger folk with aspirations, the aspiration is going to have to be principal at second tier," he said. "I think for quite a lot of people, that will be a noble aspiration; not everybody wants to be the big player. For quite a lot of colleagues, this would be perfectly acceptable: they would rather concentrate on their students and on education."

However, the University and College Union hit out at the high levels of pay awarded to some college leaders while their staff were subjected to a pay freeze.

Members of the UCU and Unison last month went on strike after the Association of Colleges, representing its members, refused to offer a pay rise for staff, arguing that mounting financial pressures meant that it was "not sustainable" for its members to offer any pay rise for 2015-16. UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "While some principals at UK colleges continue to enjoy sky-high salaries and pay hikes, staff pay continues to be held down. At a time when staff are facing real-terms pay cuts we are disappointed that principals’ salaries continue to remain so high."

This is an edited article from the 18 March edition of TES. Subscribers can read the full article here. This week's TES magazine is available in all good newsagents. To download the digital edition, Android users can click here and iOS users can click hereTES Further Education subscription packages are available here

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