Exclusive: Academisation in jeopardy due to excessive pay, warns Sir Michael Wilshaw

17th November 2017 at 05:03
A quarter of the best paid academy bosses, who earn more than £150,000 a year, have received double-digit pay rises

England’s top-paying academy trusts have approved pay rises of up to 141 per cent, with many academy leaders who run a single school now paid more than the prime minister, according to a Tes analysis.

About one in four (24 per cent) of the country’s best-paid academy bosses enjoyed double-digit pay rises in 2015-16. Almost half of those enjoying inflation-busting increases ran trusts comprised of a single school.

The findings have prompted Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Ofsted chief inspector and a strong supporter of academies, to warn that the academy movement is in danger of being derailed due to “reputational damage”. He said: “The Department for Education has clearly lost control. Public money is not being spent well and the excesses that we’re seeing in relation to salaries will bring down the whole programme unless the DfE gets a grip."

Tes examined the annual accounts of the 121 academy trusts named by the DfE as paying at least one employee in excess of £150,000 a year in 2015-16. The academy leaders in our analysis earned £179,000 a year on average in 2015-16 – 19 per cent more than the prime minister’s salary.

The figure has risen sharply since 2014-15, when it was £161,000. The pay increases have been condemned by shadow education secretary Angela Rayner as evidence of a “fragmented, unaccountable school system in which there is too little meaningful oversight of how millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money is spent”.

Rising pay

The rises in remuneration for academy bosses are in stark contrast to the restrictions placed on teachers, who have endured a 1 per cent pay cap – effectively a pay cut – for seven years. Clive Neathey, chief executive of the Rosedale Hewens Academy Trust, which runs seven schools, received the biggest percentage increase. He saw his pay soar to between £205,000 and £210,000 in 2015-16 – up by 141 per cent on the previous year.

Beverley Amos, the chair of trustees at the trust, claimed the figures are “misleading” and said: “Mr Neathey had previously made a decision, in the interests of the trust, to effectively take a significant pay cut at a time when the trust was expanding by commissioning a number of new provisions."

In 2014-15, in a year when the trust took on an extra school, Mr Neathey was paid £85,000-£90,000. This was down on the previous year, when the academy chain had six schools and paid Mr Neathey £110,000 to £115,000. The year before that, in 2012-13, the trust took on three new schools and he was paid £180,000-£185,000.

Another trust in the DfE’s list of top payers was St Helen’s Catholic Junior School in Brentwood, Essex, which has about 350 pupils. In 2015-16, its headteacher, Bozena Laraway, was paid between £150,000 and £160,000 – a 50 per cent rise on the previous year, which she says reflects the consultancy support she gave to another school during that time.

Although Sir Dan Moynihan, chief executive of the Harris Federation, tops the list in terms of his actual salary, which was £420,000 in 2015-16, it rose by a comparatively small 6 per cent that year.

Increased pension contributions

The Tes analysis also reveals that more than one in three of the top-paying academies in England have increased the amount they pay into the pension pots of their biggest earners. Eighty trusts included data on pension contributions in their accounts. Of these, 61 per cent gave pension rises of up to 100 per cent to their highest-paid individuals.

When combined with salaries, pension contributions resulted in two-thirds of England’s top-earning academy bosses receiving benefits of almost £200,000 a year on average.

Sir Dan Moynihan had the largest pension contributions, valued at between £50,000 and £55,000 in 2015-16 – up by 25 per cent on the previous year. But the biggest percentage rise – 100 per cent - was received by Denise Shepherd, then chief executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. This was enhanced due to a £85,833 severance payment.

When questioning whether large increases can be justified, the same rules apply to pension contributions as to salaries, according to Matthew Wolton, a partner at law firm Knights 1759, who specialises in academies. Under these circumstances, he says, any increase “should follow a robust evidence-based process and be reflective of the individual’s role and responsibilities”.

The government has created a system “that encouraged a culture of paying headteachers and school leaders what they want, and teachers what you can get away with” claimed Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union.

Government under scrutiny

Responding to the concerns over excessive pay, a DfE spokesperson said: “It is essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards." They added that levels of executive pay should “follow a robust evidence-based process” and be “reflective of the individual’s role and responsibilities”.

National schools commissioner Sir David Carter and academies minister Lord Agnew will face questions over executive pay at an evidence session being held by the Education Select Committee next month. Committee chair Robert Halfon said: “The Department for Education should strengthen its financial oversight of academy schools and MATs, which in the past has not been proactive enough."

Academy trustees take on the main responsibility for overseeing leaders’ salaries, basing their decisions on the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s (ESFA) Academies Financial Handbook. But the guidance needs to be strengthened, as there is “no consistency to pay levels, in terms of the number of pupils being educated or performance of the schools”,  according to Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governance Association. She said: “Despite our requests over a number of years, there is still no official guidance on setting executive pay for larger academy trusts and federations."

This is an edited article from the 17 November edition of Tes. Subscribers can read the full article here. To subscribe, click 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 here

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