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Super size my salary

The news that heads can increasingly command 100k will be encouraging for those thinking of taking on the pressure. But there is a downside, says Madeleine Brettingham

It was in 2002 that Alastair Falk, the newly-appointed head of Ealing's multi million pound West London Academy, became Britain's highest-earning head, with salary and perks of more than pound;120,000. The news attracted considerable press attention. While pay had broken through the pound;100,000 barrier in the private sector some time before, the idea of a state head taking home a corporate-style salary was greeted with raised eyebrows.

Today the pound;100k head is not so rare. With a widespread recruitment drought, academies rising, and the inner London pay spine creeping over Pounds 100,000, six-figure salaries are not unusual.

"While they are certainly not common, market conditions are increasingly demanding that heads receive attractive pay," says Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers. "The attitude of most is, 'Good luck to them.' People who can make a difference in this sector are worth their weight in gold."

While it might not sit as well with a headteacher who earns pound;40,000 a year at a small rural school, the fact that governors have the discretion to offer big pay packages to attract the right candidate resulted in nine schools offering salaries of more than pound;100,000 this year for a September start, according to John Howson, recruitment analyst and visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University.

The TES estimates that there are 220 pound;100k heads in the UK. Most of them work at academies or large inner-city schools. But it is fair to say the money doesn't come without intense pressure. Mr Falk, the first six-figure head, was dropped by his academy after three years following a critical Ofsted inspection.

Ray Priest, 51, principal of the City Academy in Bristol, got his first headship at 36 and presided over the opening of one of the first 12 academies in the UK. Three years later, on a salary of pound;103,000 plus benefits, he recalls how he is one of the few heads to survive from the first swathe of academy openings. "I think there are only about three of us left now," he says.

A former drama teacher, he has had a rapid rise to the top, starting with a BEd in Cheltenham, in charge of his own department after only a year, and gaining his first deputy headship at 30. He attributes his success to a willingness to step up to the task, letting pay rises come later. "Sometimes you have to show a bit of initiative, and that is the quality I try and notice in my own staff," he says.

He admits the pay rise that came with heading up an academy was a shock (his salary went from roughly pound;68,000 to pound;85,000 overnight after he applied for the school to join the academies scheme, and was kept on as head). But it is clear that while the sponsorship won much-needed building improvements, it also brought extra pressures. With 49 per cent of pupils on free school meals and 300 pupils with English as an additional language, raising the percentage achieving good (A*-C) grades from 26 per cent ("in a good year") to 50 per cent has been a struggle. Ray is also responsible for the academy's other business interests: running an employment agency, an adult education centre, sports centre and day-care centre. All in all, he is responsible for 350 staff. "We're not just a school we're an education services company," he says.

It's a gruelling schedule that probably doesn't sound unfamiliar to most heads. But there is no doubt that heading up an academy brings with it a unique kind of pressure, not least because of the added press attention. As Dr Alan McMurdo who has already achieved a level of fame for heading the new Thomas Deacon Academy in Peterborough, the school famous for having no playground puts it: "Job security is much more exciting than in a maintained school. You are judged on your performance in a much more swift and decisive fashion."

Alan, who puts his salary at "just over" the pound;100,000 mark, works a similarly intense schedule, overseeing the merger of the three schools that make up the Thomas Deacon Academy. It is a big project: 2,200 places, a Foster and Partners-designed building and a pound;49 million price tag. His aim is to raise the proportion of children achieving five good grades to 100 per cent by 2011. Well-being will be monitored by the use of termly pupil and staff satisfaction surveys.

After teaching in the Navy and a stint as a science teacher, Alan says he was on the look-out for an opportunity to increase his impact on children's learning. He took a National Professional Qualification for Headship and got his first head's post 10 years ago. "Nothing prepares you for it, but it's a fantastic job," he says.

Mergers and multiple schools are meat and drink to the new breed of superheads. David Carter, 47, who earns pound;110,000 as executive head of Bristol Brunel and John Cabot Academies, spends his days making two or three trips between the school buildings.

His weeks involve liaising with everyone from the local authority to central government and teachers. Routine responsibilities such as discipline are left to the respective heads. "This is exactly what I need at this stage in my career," he says. "This is an opportunity to re-think how I do the role."

While John Cabot is a popular school in the area and has had an "outstanding" Ofsted report, Bristol Brunel, also a new academy, has suffered frequent changes of head and only 30 per cent of pupils achieve five good grades at GCSE. He wants to see the figure increased to 50 per cent at Bristol Brunel and 100 per cent at John Cabot (from 83 per cent) over the next few years.

Unlike her male counterparts, Marcia Twelftree, 57, took a three-year teaching break to bring up two children, before embarking on her journey up the career ladder. Now she is head of Charters School in Sunningdale, in Windsor and Maidenhead, and in charge of a pound;7 million budget.

She says the hardest things about such a demanding job are retaining contact time with children and battling paperwork. On a salary of more than Pounds 100,000 she actually brings in pound;27,000 to the school for her work as a School Improvement Partner. "These are fees paid directly to the school so I am actually making them money," she says.

She is proud of having reached her position, despite having taken a career break and worked part time while raising her family. "It's important to show that it can be done. You can have a family and still get the top job," she sa ***

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