The director general of the UK's biggest vocational exam board, City and Guilds, earned nearly pound;450,000 last year, making him possibly the highest paid professional in the education sector.
Chris Jones' total remuneration package of pound;449,990 in 2010-11, including bonuses of pound;127,128 and expenses worth pound;78,749, has garnered heavy criticism.
At the beginning of 2011, Mr Jones' base salary increased by 9.4 per cent, from pound;228,500 to pound;250,000. In addition, the position he holds at City and Guilds is eligible for a maximum 60 per cent bonus based on performance. Mr Jones received 51 per cent, a percentage of which he deferred until next year.
City and Guilds, a registered charity, offers 500 vocational qualifications in 28 areas including construction, tourism and social care, and apprenticeship programmes in more than 170 career roles. It works in 81 countries and awards 1.9 million certificates a year.
The wider FE community has reacted with surprise to news of Mr Jones' pay. FE lecturers, who are now in the third year of a pay freeze, start on salaries of just pound;23,000, while most principals receive considerably less than half of the director general's pay cheque.
"At a time when the majority of FE lecturers have had a real pay freeze and pay cuts, we do feel that this is extremely inappropriate," said Barry Lovejoy, head of FE for the University and College Union.
"Unfortunately, it seems to be mirroring trends that occur across the economy, where we see massive increases in pay from those in the financial sector," he added. "The mirroring of developments in the private sector . may be indicative of this (public) sector turning into more a private one."
Mr Jones has accepted his bonus as severe cuts are being made to FE, with many colleges facing funding reductions in real terms. In the 2009-10 City and Guilds annual report, Mr Jones acknowledged the economic difficulties facing the sector.
"For the City and Guilds group, 2009-2010 was a successful year despite challenging global trading conditions," he wrote. "The UK market faced reduced funding opportunities, with training providers and FE colleges struggling to maintain their previous level of business."
The report claimed that bonuses paid to its management board took into account "market levels of remuneration". However, Mr Jones' salary far exceeds the pay of heads of leading exam boards AQA and Edexcel.
AQA, a not-for-profit charity like City and Guilds, does not pay bonuses. Its chief executive, Andrew Hall, received pound;182,160 last year. Ziggy Liaquat, managing director of Edexcel, earned pound;243,428 including pension payments and benefits. A fourth awarding body, OCR, refused to comment.
A spokesman for City and Guilds said that the increase to Mr Jones' salary reflected "the director general's development of the organisation and achievements in the four years since he was appointed. This was also referenced against benchmark information on comparable roles.
"Our trustees recognise that we operate within a commercial environment, and our reward and recognition programmes must be commensurate with the market," the spokesman added.
But campaigners for more equal pay in the wider economy have suggested that Mr Jones' pay is emblematic of how other sectors are beginning to mimic the corporate world.
"In the private sector in the UK, we have seen a rapid increase in pay at the top," said Deborah Hargreaves, director of independent thinktank the High Pay Centre. "The average executive of a large FTSE 100 company has seen their pay increase to pound;4.2 million.
"Increasingly, this private sector pay has leaked over into the public sector and (we have) seen wages at the top increase even as the average pay stagnates. In these austere times, such inequality is unlikely to engender support from the British public."
pound;449,990 - Chris Jones, director general of City and Guilds
pound;243,428 - Ziggy Liaquat, managing director of Edexcel
pound;182,160 - Andrew Hall, chief executive of AQA
pound;23,000 - FE lecturers' starting salary.
Original headline: pound;450,000 for exam boss branded `inappropriate' at a time of sector cuts