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Private lives: pound;50,000 a year and a free house

Classroom teachers at some of Britain's top private schools can earn almost pound;50,000 per year, according to a series of documents leaked to The TES.

Other perks offered by some schools in the independent sector include free or subsidised housing, private medical insurance and generous final-salary pension schemes for non-teaching staff.

The figures are revealed in surveys conducted among independent schools'

bursars. A number of schools are under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading after information-swapping on fees led to allegations of price-fixing. The TES has now learned some of them swapped information on a variety of other financial issues.

The "Rugby Group" of 18 leading schools, which includes Winchester, Harrow, Wellington and Charterhouse compared information on staff pay rises, housing and teacher-pupil ratios. The results revealed the schools had more than twice as many staff per child as state secondaries - 7.7 to one, compared with 17 to one in the state sector.

A comparison of pay scales showed top independent schools paid generous salaries. While the main grade in state secondaries went up to pound;32,217, among the Rugby group the top salary for a classroom teacher was an average of pound;40,821. Senior staff received special responsibility allowances of up to pound;10,000. At Rugby, the highest-paid classroom teacher earned pound;56,000, and at Winchester and Radley just under pound;50,000.

A newly-qualified teacher in a state secondary earns pound;17,600; at Charterhouse, Radley, Rugby or Stowe he or she would get more than pound;22,000. The average starting salary at the 18 schools last year was pound;20,710.

A separate analysis of the schools' accounts by The TES has revealed their headmasters, too, are paid generously. The highest-paid member of staff at Harrow received between pound;90,000 and pound;100,000 in 2001, while at Eton two members of staff earned between pound;80,000 and pound;90,000.

Harrow requires all staff to live in rent-free.

But the analysis also revealed that fee rises of almost 39 per cent over five years had not enabled all the schools to balance their books.

Increases in expenses, including pay rises and rising contributions to the teachers' pension scheme, meant that some schools had gone into the red. In 2001 Gordonstoun had an overdraft of more than pound;3m, and Harrow pound;2.2m.

Even among schools whose accounts were in the black, several had seen rising expenditure outstrip rises in income. Independent schools'

representatives said the downturn in their accounts proved the fee rises had been prompted by circumstances rather than by greed.

But Alan Carter, an executive member of the Campaign for State Education, wondered how it was possible for such wealthy institutions to find themselves in financial trouble.

"You would think it would be possible to rein in a little bit and still provide an excellent service within their means. How on earth can they be running out of money?" he asked.

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