When the leader of one of the country’s biggest academy trusts states that generating income is as an important part of her role as ensuring pupils get the best possible education, it is a jolting reminder of just how severe schools' money problems have become.
After all, for the best part of a decade the government – which is supposed to be funding state schools – has been relying on the academies programme to improve education in England. But here was one its leading figures saying that for her, finding extra income was now just as vital.
The comments came from Debbie Clinton – chief executive of the Academy Transformation Trust (ATT), which runs 22 schools across the country – at last week’s Schools and Academies Show in London.
When Tes reported her remarks, some teachers were quick to take to Twitter to condemn them, with claims that they demonstrated how academies have their priorities wrong, or are money-making entities.
But this was not a case of an academy leader revealing a plot to make a profit from our schools, and she was at pains to say ATT’s income generation strategy is “ethically driven”.
The pushback on social media was noteworthy as an example of how instant ideological ripostes can trump more thoughtful consideration even in debates about education.
Ms Clinton was clear why income generation now plays such a big part in her role as CEO: the “brutal fact” that the amount of money in the school system is “insufficient”.
She will, she said, continue to “whinge” about this to Damian Hinds and “whoever I can get my hands on at the DfE”, but in the absence of more money from the DfE, she feels she has no choice but to roll up her sleeves and find ways to find other sources of income for herself.
Debbie Clinton will not be the only school leader in this situation – after her speech one of the first questions from the floor sought more details of ATT’s income-generation strategy – but she is unusual in speaking so bluntly about the world we are now in.
Parents will rightly be concerned if we are entering an age when, as well as looking at exam results and ethos when choosing a school, they also have to consider whether the CEO has the entrepreneurial skills to attract the money to achieve these.