Salaries of pound;100,000 or more are no longer a rarity for secondary heads - around one in eight posts now carries that level of pay. For academy principals, pound;130,000 is far from exceptional. But these figures only tell part of the story. Many heads "top up" their pay by acting as consultants to other schools - either working freelance, or through official government schemes such as national leaders of education.
Potential rewards are huge. In 200910, primary head Mark Elms, who leads a school in south-east London, topped up his pound;82,000 salary with consultancy fees of pound;102,000 for his work on the City Challenge scheme plus out-of-hours work and pay arrears totalling almost pound;20,000. Indeed, consultancy work is now so commonplace that some job advertisements seduce candidates with "the opportunity to become a limited company".
But is it ethical for heads to cash in like this? Not everyone is convinced.
Wakefield Council is investigating Outwood Grange principal Michael Wilkins, who is believed to have earned close to pound;1 million in the past four years. A chunk of that money came through consultancy fees for work done in other schools and as a national leader of education. The council is looking into whether the correct procedures were followed, emphasising that use of public money needs to be "open and transparent".
Headteachers' unions agree that transparency is paramount. "Good heads are worth the money," says NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby. "But we need clearer guidelines. Income from consultancy work should never go directly to the head. It should be paid to the governing body, who can then reward the head as they see fit."
But Mr Hobby believes that additional consultancy fees - which can be as high as pound;800 a day - are justified. "A day working in another school is not the same as a day working in your own school. It brings a whole new set of responsibilities."
It is not an argument likely to impress classroom teachers. Advanced skills teachers, for example, are also expected to help other schools, but that extra responsibility is recognised not through hefty consultancy fees, but through their salary.
ASCL general secretary Brian Lightman would like to see heads remunerated in a similar way - through an expanded pay scale. "As things stand, there are some worryingly grey areas," he says. "Acting as a consultant is an important responsibility and should be transparently rewarded within the national pay structure."
Of course, changes to the national pay scale would have no effect on principals of academies, which do not have to abide by nationally negotiated pay and conditions. And if the pay gap between heads and principals grows too wide, more heads could be tempted to push for academy status.
THE WIDER ISSUE
The debate around whether high-performing headteachers should face a cap on their salaries has been reignited by Will Hutton's review of fair pay in the public sector, published last month. Its key proposals are:
- Senior public servants' pay should be more strongly linked to whether they meet pre-agreed objectives.
- All public service executives' full pay should be disclosed each year, along with an explanation of how it relates to job weight and performance.
- No fixed limit on pay multiples (that is, how much an executive earns as a multiple of the lowest-paid person in the organisation), but they should be published each year.
- Public limited companies should also track and publish their pay multiples.