Third of MATs raise £150k+ pay despite DfE probe

Tes investigation shows more than a third of a group of academy chains challenged by DfE on high salaries went on to give their leaders even more pay

John Roberts and Amy Gibbons

A new analysis of MAT accounts show more than a third of a group challenged by the DfE over pay have continued to increase their top salaries.

More than a third of a group of multi-academy trusts questioned by the government over their high chief executive salaries last year went on to award their top earners more pay, a Tes analysis of their latest accounts shows.

Last February, the Department for Education wrote to 87 MATs asking them to justify and explain why they were paying salaries of more than £150,000.

Of those trusts targeted by the DfE, 61 have now published their accounts for 2018-19. And a Tes analysis reveals that 23 of the MATs (38 per cent) then increased the salary of their chief executive or top earner in 2018-19.

It also shows that three-quarters of these MATs – 46 out of 61 – continued to pay at least one member of staff more than £150,000, despite the government intervention.

Revealed: The top paying MATs awarding pay rises last year

Top pay: Harris Federation pays 12 staff more than £150,000

Finances: Pay restraint is over for larger MAT leaders, new report suggests

Mary Bousted, the joint general secretary of the NEU teaching union, said the figures showed the DfE's attempts to curb executive salaries by writing to high paying trusts to question them was not working.

"These trusts have essentially said: ‘Well thank you very much but no thanks, we’re not going to listen to you’," she said.

The findings of the Tes investigation follow the recent Kreston Academies Benchmark report, which showed the leaders of large MATs have seen significant increases in salary last year – bringing to an end a brief period of pay restraint.

The DfE's Education Skills and Funding Agency began attempting to influence top-level pay in the academies sector more than two years ago by writing to trusts paying over £150,000 or paying multiple six-figure salaries.

The February 2018 letters were sent by the ESFA’s chief executive Eileen Milner at a time when the MATs were unlikely to have finalised their 2018-19 pay decisions.

Despite this, the latest published accounts show many trusts have continued to increase executive pay – and in some cases by significant amounts.

Tes revealed last week that Hugh Greenway, the chief executive of the Elliot Foundation Academies Trust – written to in February 2018 – was given a £33,000 pay rise, taking his salary above the £200,000 mark.

The 19 per cent pay increase took his salary from £169,720 to £202,805 last year.

Mr Greenway told Tes last week that he accepted the public scrutiny that came with his salary. He said that it was not for him to defend the pay rise, as it was not his decision. And he highlighted the successful findings of Ofsted’s summary multi-academy trust evaluation of the Elliot Foundation last year.

Elsewhere, the Spencer Academies Trust increased the pay band of its chief executive Paul West from £155,000- £160,000 to £215,000-£220,000 – a pay rise of at least £55,000, and at least 34 per cent.

A spokesperson for the East Midlands-based trust said: “Executive remuneration, including that of the CEO, is set by the board of directors annually. It is benchmarked against other MATs in the sector informed by the growth and complexity of the organisation along with challenging educational and financial targets.

“Since 2017, the trust has grown from operating 10 to 20 schools with three further schools in pre-operations. The number of students has risen from approximately 6,000 to approaching 16,000; representing significant growth at a time when educational and financial performance has been strong.”

MAT accounts show either the pay changes of the chief executive or the minimum and maximum pay bands of their most highly paid staff.

The new figures show that across the 23 trusts that raised pay, the average top salary rose between £7,266 and £17,482 in 2018-19. This amounts to an increase in spending of between £167,107 and £402,095.

Leora Cruddas, the chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts (CST) said: “It’s a lot of public money, and I get that. But the thing is, it’s allowed under the government’s own regulatory pay scales.

“If we do this exercise properly and we have a proper grown-up conversation about this, we might find that there isn’t actually too much of a problem to solve. We do need to value leaders, we do need to value particularly effective leaders, who are running groups of schools."

She added: "CST believes that attracting and retaining talented leaders in our education system is a top-level system priority.

"Pay is a necessary but not sufficient consideration in attracting and retaining talented leaders who can lead large complex organisations – in both educational and financial terms - and ensure the best possible outcomes for children and young people across the group of schools in the trust.

“CST does not support arbitrary pay caps.  As the sector body for school trusts, CST is fully committed to an evidence-based process for setting executive pay and to the vigilant observation of financial probity, the ethos of public service, public sector values and the principles of public life.”

However, Dr Bousted claimed the gap between teacher and leader pay in academies was unfair.

She added: "What we know is, in academies generally, the pay gap between CEOs and teachers is wider than it is in local authority schools. And that just isn’t fair.

"The actual work done to improve standards of teaching and learning is done by teachers in classrooms, working with students. They are the ones who do the actual work to improve standards." 

She said some trusts were  "cocking a snook at the ESFA, saying: ‘Well we don’t care what you say; this is what we are going to pay’".

Dr Bousted added: "And there is no redress by the department about the spending of public money in academy chains, in paying these inflated salaries.

"What should happen is school leaders’ pay and CEO pay should be regulated, as should teacher pay."

A DfE spokesperson said: "We have been consistent in our communications and guidance to the sector on what we expect when they come to setting salaries – salaries must be justifiable, reflect individuals’ responsibilities and demonstrate value for money.

"Since 2017, we have challenged 278 academy trusts across the country in relation to their pay, and asked them to provide clear rationale for those receiving the highest salaries. We will continue in our drive to challenge trusts that pay excessive salaries until we are satisfied that they represent good value for money."

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

John Roberts and Amy Gibbons

Latest stories