Small primary schools in challenging areas should be able to almost double the amount of money they can pay their heads to more than pound;100,000 a year, a heads' union leader has claimed.
While current rules mean that heads working in the smallest maintained primaries outside London can only receive a maximum salary of around pound;57,000, NAHT general secretary Russell Hobby argued that those working in difficult circumstances should be able to earn the larger pay packets on offer at the biggest secondary schools.
The largest maintained secondaries outside the capital can pay their heads up to pound;105,000 - and Mr Hobby told TES there "could be circumstances" in which leaders of small schools in deprived parts of the country deserved just as much.
He said that leading a small school could be "one of the hardest jobs in the system", and warned that pay restrictions are deterring senior teachers from applying for headships.
Mr Hobby's call came as highly controversial guidelines over performance- related pay for teachers were released by the Department for Education. From September, teachers will no longer automatically progress up the main pay scale, with heads encouraged to take the opinions of students and parents into account when deciding pay rises.
In the Budget last month, Chancellor George Osborne said that the 1 per cent cap on public sector pay rises, which affects teachers, would be extended for another year to 2016. The School Teachers' Review Body, which advises ministers on pay, is investigating how that should be applied. On Wednesday, education secretary Michael Gove asked the body to look into school leaders' pay, including the role of executive principals.
According to figures released last year by the DfE, 700 heads in England were being paid at least pound;100,000 a year, including 100 primary school leaders.
Academies are free to offer higher salaries than maintained schools, and the National Audit Office revealed that one in 10 academy heads was paid more than the maximum permitted for non-academy principals in their region, with the leaders of six academy chains earning at least pound;200,000 each.
In contrast, the salary of a head working in a non-academy is limited by the number of students attending the school. Primaries with fewer than 143 students can only pay their heads between pound;42,379 and pound;56,950 (this rises to between pound;49,466 and pound;64,036 in inner London). Schools are also allowed to offer discretionary payments to heads of up to 25 per cent of their salary.
"If we want people to take these jobs on, we have to make them more attractive," Mr Hobby said. "There are so many cases where a head in a small school is on a 50 per cent teaching timetable but also has the same responsibility as other heads without having a large management team around them.
"It's one of the hardest jobs in the system. We can't simply use school size as a proxy for the degree of challenge involved in the role. Some people think running a small school is a smaller job, but it's much more complex."
However, Mr Hobby warned that complete deregulation of pay would result in a "free for all". He called for a new structure for heads' pay, taking into account factors such as school size and the difficulty of the job.
Martin Freedman, head of pay, conditions and pensions at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, said ministers should be "wary of heads paying themselves huge amounts of money".
"We need proper regulation of school leaders' pay," he said. "There need to be proper checks, as there are for teachers."
At the annual conference of the NASUWT teaching union last month, members criticised the "abuse of flexibility by some employers to pay headteachers vastly inflated salaries, bonuses and other hidden benefits".
But Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, backed Mr Hobby's suggestion. "School size is an important factor - there are different issues in a large secondary and a small primary - but at the same time there needs to be a more subtle way of assessing the weight of school leadership," he said.
The proposal was also welcomed by the National Association for Small Schools. "An increase in heads' salaries would improve recruitment in small schools no end," information officer Mervyn Benford said.
Photo credit: Getty
Original headline: Small-school heads deserve pound;100K, says union leader