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Rise in £200k academy CEOs as pay ‘stagnation’ ends

Forty-four academy trust CEOs have now crossed the £200,000 pay threshold amid wage rises of up to 50 per cent in five years – as leaders argue that salaries may now match those in private firms.

Three more leaders now earn over £300,000.

Schools Week’s annual chief executive pay investigation reveals that trust bosses received, on average, a 5.2 per cent hike in 2022-23, taking them out of a period of wage “stagnation”.

Our analysis has found the best paid are getting better paid, but there is also a £14,000 gender pay gap.

Meanwhile we can reveal the Department for Education will resume its policy of naming and shaming the trusts under government scrutiny over high pay.

National Governance Association deputy CEO Sam Henson warned that trustees “must remain conscious that salaries are paid from public money”.

He added: “Given the charitable nature of an academy trust, we have always said the pay package will rarely be as high as what is given in the corporate for-profit sector. These recent findings show that may no longer be the case.”

The £300k club

We analysed the 2022-23 accounts for about 400 trusts with at least one member of staff earning £100,000 or more. This included those previously ordered by the government to justify executive salaries, and MATs with 10 or more schools.

Harris Federation CEO Sir Dan Moynihan again topped the list. His minimum salary rose for the first time since 2018-19, from £455,000 to £485,000 in the last academic year.

His supporters point to how he has helped raise millions for the chain. The trust has two other unnamed members of staff earning between £230,000 and £250,000.

Dr Dayo Olukoshi, of Brampton Manor Trust, and Leigh Academies chief Simon Beamish joined Moynihan in the top three.

Olukoshi, who runs two schools in London, has seen his pay packet grow from £234,274 in 2018-19, to at least £310,000 last year.

Meanwhile, Beamish’s remuneration figure is at least £305,000, up by £80,000 in five years.

Sir Kevin Satchwell, leader of the standalone high-performing Thomas Telford School and linked Thomas Telford MAT, also joins the £300,000 club.

Best paid get better paid

In all, 44 chief execs broke the £200,000 barrier, up from the 35 recorded last year.

Audits of the trusts’ accounts show average earnings among their CEOs stood at just over £201,000 in 2018-19. This has since risen 16.5 per cent to almost £235,000.

Four recorded increases of 40 per cent or more over the period. On average, the trusts run by £200,000-plus earners oversaw 26 schools.

Cranford Community College, in Hounslow, was the only single-academy trust in the top 20.

Chief executive Kevin Prunty’s remuneration rose by 50 per cent, from a minimum of £150,000 to £225,000.

Jenny Lewis, chair of the trust’s board, said Prunty had been contracted to turn around the fortunes of one of its subsidiaries, Cranford Community Trading Company Limited, after it had been rocked by Covid. He received more than £76,000 in wages and backdated pay last year for this.

The firm “runs all commercial events and activities on the academy site” …  [But] the business profit, after costs, has tripled following his appointment [in September 2021], generating an extra £105,000. [This was] a very wise value-for-money decision by the academy trust.”

Stepping out of ‘stagnation’

Our audit last year found that wages rose by 2 per cent among the 20 highest paid and were virtually unchanged year-on-year across all the trusts.

The Kreston accountancy group annual report, which studies the accounts of about 300 academy trusts, noted that there “had only been very modest increases or stagnation” in pay in 2021-22.

But of those surveyed this time around, average pay has increased by 5.2 per cent, from £144,000 to £151,700. Teachers last year got a 5 per cent pay rise.

Henson added that the number of bosses breaking the £200,000 barrier needs further examination. “Is this reflective of some trusts getting bigger and merging, or is it the systemic result of a race to the top, where irresponsible benchmarking gives rise to an ever-upward trend?

“Many boards would rightly argue that one of the best things they can spend money on is the very best leader, but this must be proportionate and respectful of the fact this is public money.”

Of the CEOs from the 20 largest MATs, three were given hikes of 10 per cent or more, our analysis suggests. Four remained in the same banding, while pay fell in only one of the trusts.

Henson said there was a “fine balance that has to take priority – affordability in a sector that is facing a crippling financial situation, while still being able to attract and retain the right levels of talent”.

In comparison, housing association CEO pay rose by 5.1 per cent to £164,589, according to Inside Housing.

NHS guidance proposes wages of about £265,000 for those running its largest trusts. However, a recent Health Service Journal investigation revealed that five now earn more than £300,000.

Pay increases of up to 59%

Almost three-quarters of the chains analysed reported rises of some kind. The highest was at 15-school Synergy Multi Academy Trust, where Robert Martlew’s remuneration rose nearly 59 per cent from £85,000 to £135,000.

A MAT spokesperson said its “pay bands and remuneration are in line with Norfolk County Council’s” as well as the schoolteachers’ pay and conditions, national pay awards and the academy trust handbook.

Despite this, the Confederation of School Trusts (CST’s) executive salary survey for 2023, published in August, noted that CEOs “saw a smaller increase year-on-year compared with the total for all senior staff, which stood at an increase of 6.3 per cent”. 

One trust leader, who did not want to be named, suggested this could be due to the recent proliferation of benchmarking data available and a desire among some to avoid “PR disasters”.

“We doubled in size in a short period. If we did ours linked to growth, it would look crazy,” they added.

Thirty-three trusts also reported reductions in the earnings of their top earners. Three saw wages fall by 30 per cent or more.

Of these, one had a leader leave during the year, while the others welcomed new ones at the start of the academic year.

Helen Stevenson, director of recruitment company Satis Education, said roles previously held by founding chief execs have been “readvertised not quite at the same level”.

£14k CEO gender pay gap

Sir Jon Coles
Sir Jon Coles

Our figures suggest that Jacqueline Valin, of Southfields Multi Academy Trust in southwest London, received the highest pay packet per pupil (£153.95/child) last year.

The chain consists of one secondary – which has more than 1,200 youngsters on its books – and a special school for those with multiple health needs.

Unsurprisingly, those with the lowest pay-per-pupil numbers ran the biggest trusts. United Learning Trust CEO Sir Jon Coles, whose organisation was in charge of 83 academies last August, earned £4.20 for every child in his schools.

Neither trust wanted to comment.

Just under 35 per cent of the trusts analysed had female chiefs, up from 30 per cent last year.

Vivienne Porritt
Vivienne Porritt

Just three of the 20 highest-paying chains were led by women.

On average, men were remunerated to the tune of £157,000. Women tended to receive about £14,000 less.

Vivienne Porritt, of WomenED, said it “highlights wider inequities between men and women” in the sector.

Trusts should remove “the current salary question from application forms” and ensure their gender pay gap reports form “an action-orientated plan to reduce” wage disparities, she added.

DfE IS still challenging high pay

The government used to write public letters demanding justifications from trusts that paid their leaders more than £150,000. But the clampdown has been in limbo since mid-2020.

However, the Department for Education’s latest academy sector accounts noted that it was “challenging” leaders over wages where they “are identified as high compared to similar” trusts.

In response to a freedom of information request, the DfE said officials “recently engaged with a number of trusts on levels of pay” as it bids to “improve the quality, depth and transparency” of such data.

The DfE refused our request for the names of the groups under scrutiny as the “information will be published in the coming months” – suggesting that it will return to its name and shame policy.

Schools Week has revealed how the government will now focus on pay “outliers” – as opposed to just those earning over a certain threshold.

Our figures show that 77 trusts – 19 per cent – paid their leaders 15 per cent or more than expected for trusts with a similar number of pupils.

Olukoshi’s renumeration was the biggest outlier. It was more than double (111 per cent) expectations.

Meanwhile, 97 leaders (24 per cent) were receiving at least 15 per cent below what they were due.

Mark Greatrex, whose pay packet for running 11-school Bellevue Place Education Trust was 22 per cent under, thinks he is at “the lower end of the scale” because his MAT is primary only.

But he warned that “a lot” of trusts “also appoint for the organisation they’re growing into … before they’ve got there”.

How trusts benchmark pay

CST CEO Leora Cruddas said it was “difficult to fairly compare roles across organisations, particularly as trusts grow.

She added: “There is a clear requirement for trust boards to follow a robust evidence-based process in deciding executive pay, and it is right that there is transparency over how public money is used.”

Greatrex said many trusts use CST’s surveys and Kreston reports as benchmarking guides. The DfE, meanwhile, does not “hold data on the pay for all executive positions”.

Government guidance, updated in November, outlined that trust academic performance, finances, educational challenge and the individual’s experience should be considered when setting salaries.

It also suggested contacting “similarly sized trusts in your area” to share information.

However, the NGA remains “worried that not enough trusts are talking about pay ratios and using this in their considerations, as much as benchmarking against other executives’ pay”.

Henson said: “The more money that goes into executive pay, the less goes into investment directly into pupils.

“This emphasis on transparency should be a useful starting point for any trust when considering its pay ratio: can the trust justify to the rest of its community that the ratio between the pay of the senior executive leader and other staff is appropriate?”

A department spokesperson said that “salaries should be justifiable and reflect the individual responsibility alongside local retention and recruitment needs”.

They added: “We will continue to engage with trusts on pay where it is neither proportionate nor directly linked to improving pupil outcomes.”

Nerd note

School and pupil numbers were drawn from open academies and school census figures. We measured the differences in CEO pay by comparing minimum remuneration levels of the highest earner listed in 2022-23 trust accounts.

When a chief executive changed mid-year, we took the largest banding listed in higher-paid staff tables. In all, four trusts appear not to have released accounts for last year.

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