Onwards and upwards? The rise of executive pay

20/10/2016 16:18:05 | with 6 comments

Author: Gillian Allcroft

We all know that an outstanding headteacher makes a significant difference to a school. The vast majority of our school leaders work exceptionally hard in what is a challenging and sometimes thankless role. As governing boards it is our direct responsibility to determine what that senior executive leader (the snappy new title used in the Academies Financial Handbook to mean the most senior member of staff), is paid.

Of course we want to recognise the responsibilities of the role, but there is a balance to be struck between appropriate reward and over-egging the pudding.  Some of our headteachers are being rather handsomely rewarded. This is public service and it comes with a huge caveat – don’t join if you want to get rich. As Russell Hobby (General Secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers) said in an opinion piece to TES: ‘Working in schools is not about getting rich – it’s about making a difference”.

The School Teachers’ Pay and Conditions Document (STPCD) still provides a very valid starting – and end point.  STPCD is statutory for maintained schools and still used by the majority of academies. The top of the leadership range is £108,283 outside of London (£115, 582 inner London). Schools are placed in ‘groups’ on the leadership scale according to pupil numbers. It is then possible to take account of other factors to set the leadership range. The expectation is that this range will remain within the group size for your school. But where challenging circumstances or an exceptional candidate warrant a higher amount, it is possible to go above this level by up to 25% and in very exceptional circumstances by more than 25%. If you add 25% to the maximum of the leadership range you get to £135,354 (that’s £27,000 - another salary in itself) outside of London (£144,000 inner).  If you then decide that your circumstances are very exceptional and you add another 25%, you get to either £169,200 or £180,000. Anything over £150,000 is a very good salary by most people’s reckoning. But in recent times some salaries have gone into warp drive, hitting the £200,000 mark – for a single school.  

Some governing boards seem to have a slightly different approach to that core value of ‘making sure the money is well spent’. Yes, the role is challenging but this is not fantasy football.

I’m sure those governing (and indeed those in receipt of these more significant salaries) will say they are justified – ‘our school has specific challenges’ or ‘the head is marvellous’ or ‘she works so hard’ or ‘results are going up and up’. This may all be true and that first point is precisely the reason that there is flexibility in the STPCD. But, let’s be sensible, if the circumstances warrant going above the group size for your school then it can be somewhere between 1-25%,  that upper level isn’t a target. If you go 25% plus, you need to have really solid justification.  Even if you haven’t hit the £200,000 or even £100,000 mark – it’s the starting point and baseline for the role which is important – this shouldn’t be a race to the top. 

The NGA has asked several times that the DfE produces benchmarking information so that governing boards get a sense of what similar schools are paying their senior leaders. Sadly this hasn’t materialised. However, the fact that the majority of secondary schools are now academies and consequently do have publicly available figures does provide some opportunity to look across.  It’s also, particularly if you’re in a multi-academy trust, worth looking at other public sector or third sector organisations.

The scrutiny of schools and their finances by those outside the education system has never been higher. Over the summer and continuing there has been a drip feed of stories about ‘generous’ expense schemes and in some cases headteachers being remunerated in two different ways for carrying out their role (see previous reports on Perry Beeches). While it is true that these ‘higher’ salaries remain in the minority, it is these which attract attention. Even if you have acted within the rules, governing boards need to continually ask themselves is this justified. Consider what parents of the school will think, what staff will think given they won’t be receiving significant rises. What is the differential in pay between the senior leader and the staff?

This is not just an academy issue, those flexibilities in the STPCD mean that headteacher pay in some maintained schools has also gone up sharply (but it is easier to see in academies because their accounts have to be published and salaries over £60,000 set out). Nor is it an issue of size or phase.

This is brought into stark relief when you look at the multi-academy trust sector. A quick trawl (from the most recently published accounts - 2015) reveals some interesting figures. At the top of the tree is Sir Dan Moynihan chief executive of the Harris Federation Academy Trust. He oversees 41 schools with just over 21,000 pupils and is paid a whopping £400,000 plus – by contrast Karen Roberts at the Kemnal Academies Trust oversees a similar number of schools and pupils, but is paid circa £150,000.  Spot the difference. But if you exclude Sir Dan as an outlier and look at range of other trusts with schools numbering from 3-62 schools and  2600-31000 pupils, then the salaries range from £95,000-£225,000, but not necessarily according to size. The trust with 31,000 pupils pays £225,000, but then so does a trust with only nine schools and approximately 5,000 pupils. How did we get here? 

These days the phrase ‘moral purpose’ tends to give me a case of indigestion through its over-use but here I think it is justified. Those governing our schools do so to better the education system and give something back. But governing boards also have a hugely important stewardship role over our schools and that on occasion means having courageous conversations and sometimes that should involve saying ‘no’. 

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