Pay is not the only area in which some academy bosses are in a different league to most teachers. At a time when growing numbers of teachers are abandoning their pension schemes because they cannot afford to pay into them, some academy leaders have seen their pension contributions double in the space of a year. More than one in three of the top-paying academies in England have increased the amount they pay into the pension pots of their biggest earners, according to a Tes analysis of the annual reports of 121 academy trusts that paid at least one individual more than £150,000 in 2015-16.
Eighty trusts included data on pension contributions in their accounts. Of these, 61 per cent gave pension rises of up to 100 per cent to their highest-paid individuals.
When combined with salaries, pension contributions resulted in two-thirds (80 out of 121 or 66 per cent) of England’s top-earning academy bosses receiving benefits of almost £200,000 a year on average (£195,445).
Last year, Tes reported that the number of teachers opting out of the profession’s pension scheme had risen by 19 per cent between April and June 2016, compared with the same period in 2015. Many of those opting out were young teachers struggling to make ends meet.
Meg Hillier, chair of the Commons Public Accounts Select Committee, says that “huge pension increases seem like a cosy deal for top leaders [but] are just not an option for lower-paid staff”.
Sir Dan Moynihan, the chief executive of Harris Federation, tops the list of the biggest pension contributions, valued at between £50,000 and £55,000 in 2015-16 – up by 25 per cent on the previous year.
But the biggest percentage rise in pension contributions, a 100 per cent increase, was received by Denise Shepherd, then chief executive of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust. This was enhanced due to a £85,833 severance payment.
A spokesperson for the trust said: “As she was a headteacher, our former chief executive participated in the teacher pension scheme.
“The rates of contribution for this are outside our control, although we are, of course, committed to funding our obligations from the scheme. For 2015-16, she received additional pension contributions because her remuneration was for the year itself, as well as her contractual notice.”
Pension contributions are linked to salaries, committing employers to paying a certain percentage, states Phillip Reynolds, senior manager at accountancy firm Kreston Reeves. But he says some academy leaders might receive additional top-ups that further increase their pension pot, such as in instances in which “they are awarded a bonus and they ask for it to be paid into their pension…this will reduce their tax bill, too”.
When questioning whether large increases can be justified, the same rules apply to pension contributions as to salaries, according to Matthew Wolton, a partner at law firm Knights 1759, who specialises in academies.
Under these circumstances, he says, any increase “should follow a robust evidence-based process and be reflective of the individual’s role and responsibilities”.