Fat cats in the £200k club

8th April 2016 at 01:00

Can you hear it? It’s the collective sigh from staffrooms across the country as teachers peruse the Skills Funding Agency list, calculating how many hours the highest-paid leaders would have to slog to match our salaries. The ratios are gobsmacking.

My response is heightened by the shocking gap between what the top few principals are earning and what those who lead comparatively sized organisations are being paid. I would like to invite someone to unpack that for me. But in a void of reasonable explanation, the natural response is anger. So strap on your helmets, FE leaders. I’m off on one…again.

There are hundreds of excellent principals leading their colleges with strong moral purpose and a well-endowed pay slip. But one that reflects their huge role within the context of the public sector, on an incremental scale with staff wages. There are some principals who haven’t taken a pay rise in years, demonstrating workforce empathy in recognition of the sector’s financial battering. Good on you, folks!

At the other end of the scale, there is a small clot of pound-shop Frank Underwoods who manage to convince their boards they’re worth the £200k+ that is wheelbarrowed into their offices. One principal that I know of takes home a six-figure salary while lecturers buy exercise books out of their own pockets – there’s no budget for that sort of thing!

In a climate of slashed budgets and mass redundancies, how do these people sleep? I’ll tell you how, they nod off in the warm glow of financial self-worth, because they have a board which allows them to. They have governors – business and community leaders – who think that tipping a king’s ransom down their money hole is sound financial judgement. What turns board members who are worldly business people into adoring minions?

When questioned, those boards usually trot out something along the lines of “reasonable reward for the expertise required of the leader of a large organisation”. I wonder if anyone’s mentioned that their chosen one isn’t employing the Braveheart model of leadership? This is not one person galloping into battle with the army behind them. Their principal is flanked by a specialist team who actively co-lead, and on a lot less cash.

Has anyone let slip to the boards of the £200k+ club that there’s often a college down the road – often about the same size and sometimes with a better Ofsted grade – where the leader takes home half of what they shell out.

This disparity is what moves the discussion away from the realms of business or education into one of morality. I would love to hear sound justification of why, in a sector that champions accountability, this is acceptable practice. Really, I would.

Sarah Simons works in FE colleges in the East Midlands


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