Ministers have been told by a parliamentary watchdog to do more to control the “excessive” pay levels enjoyed by some state-school heads.
The government risks undermining its own policy of public pay restraint by giving schools and other state institutions autonomy over staff salaries, according to a report published today by the Public Accounts Committee.
Margaret Hodge, chair of the influential committee of MPs, is calling for more central oversight over pay levels. “The Treasury sets the framework for public sector pay but has been slow to exert its direct control over decisions taken by the wider public sector when setting remuneration packages,” the Labour MP said.
“The Treasury has also been slow in identifying and addressing seemingly excessive pay awards for some roles in the education sector, such as university vice-chancellors and 'super-heads’, and has only recently started to collate information in areas such as the academy sector.”
Figures released under the Freedom of Information Act in the autumn show that 41 headteachers were earning more than prime minister David Cameron’s £142,500-a-year package; up from 31 the previous year.
Of them, eight earn at least £170,000 and two earn at least £190,000.
Today’s report says it is “sceptical” about whether the government is taking public sector pay restraint seriously partly because of the Treasury’s lack of oversight over school pay.
But more government controls over headteachers’ pay would run contrary to the policy of successive governments of giving more schools, particularly academies, greater autonomy over such matters.
The committee says it “asked the Treasury what they were doing in respect of controlling salaries in the education sector, especially around academies and ‘super-heads’ and who was accountable for how much they were paid”.
The report says the Treasury responded by saying “it was trying to collect data to assess the degree to which individual academies were taking account of the freedoms granted to them”.
It also told MPs that where it identified “pay anomalies” it would take them to the Department for Education.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the NAHT headteachers' union, said it was unfair to describe school leaders’ pay as “excessive”.
“The average headteacher’s salary is £56,000 at the moment so these eye-catching numbers are at the extreme end and the vast majority of heads are not within that range,” he said.
“Heads who are commanding those large salaries are by and large running five or six schools, so perhaps they ought to be judged against different criteria.
“This government has made the job such high-stakes, with such demanding expectations, that it is struggling to get people to take on the risk.”