Teaching union hits out at academy bosses’ ‘eye-watering’ pay

Academy trust bosses in England are being paid “eye-watering” salaries that are “verging on criminality”, according to the incoming president of one of the country’s leading teaching unions.

Sally Weale www.theguardian.com

Phil Kemp, the new national president of the NASUWT, will accuse some academy leaders of taking advantage of the increasing deregulation of the education system to pay themselves excessive sums of money from the public purse.

In a speech on Friday, on the first day of the union’s annual conference, which is being held virtually this year because of the Covid pandemic, Kemp is expected to criticise academy governance, saying: “Increasingly we hear of corrupt or nepotistic practices.”

He will say: “The salaries being paid to individuals in some of these academy trusts is not just eye-watering, it’s verging on criminality in my view. So many salaries, paid for from the public purse, rising over the £200,000 mark, and some well publicised, almost reaching half a million pounds.”

Kemp, who manages a programme of alternative provision in North Tyneside for children who have been or are in danger of being excluded from mainstream education, will call for a national pay scale for all teachers and leaders to be reintroduced to curb excessive pay.

“The snouts have to come out of the trough and the public purse protected from those who will take advantage of the increasing deregulation of our education system,” he will tell members. “Those taking these huge salaries should hang their heads in shame.”

Multi-academy trusts are charities that run chains of state schools that have converted into academies and have been taken out of local authority control.

In 2019 the Department for Education (DfE) wrote to 94 trust leaders whose pay was regarded as excessively high to ask them to justify their inflated salaries, but excessive pay continues to be a concern and unions say the government’s powers to intervene are “utterly feeble”.

Research by Tes last month found that at least seven senior leaders within academy trusts were earning more than £250,000, while Sir Dan Moynihan, the chief executive of the Harris Federation, remains the top earner with his salary increasing to between £455,000 and £460,000 in 2019-20.

While the focus over the last year has been on the challenges of the pandemic to education, last month the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, revealed the government was pursuing its academies agenda and wanted to see more schools in multi-academy trusts by 2025. The DfE has been approached for comment.

The NASUWT has also released figures showing that members were paid almost £12m in compensation last year, among them a primary school teacher from Cheshire who was awarded more than £150,000 after she was assaulted by one of her pupils.

The boy had been misbehaving so she asked him to get on with his work, but when she turned away he jumped up and grabbed her neck and right hand, the union said. The teacher sustained severe injuries, causing lasting ligament damage to her wrist, hand and fingers, and was awarded £155,000 in personal injury compensation.

In another case, a whistleblower was dismissed after raising concerns about bullying and intimidation of staff, as well as child protection issues, at her school. The deputy headteacher in the school in the north-west of England was awarded £60,000 for unfair and wrongful dismissal. Separately, more than £8,000 was paid out for three cases involving breaches of maternity rights.

Dr Patrick Roach, the NASUWT general secretary, said the cases were just the tip the iceberg. “There is no doubt that many other teachers will have been driven out of the profession without proper redress for poor, discriminatory or unfair treatment because they were too fearful to come forward or believed nothing could be done.

“Too many employers believe they can act with impunity as the government fails to take any action to secure compliance with employment law, allowing poor employment practices to flourish as a result of the excessive freedoms and flexibilities it has given to schools.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said the overwhelming majority of academy trusts set reasonable levels of pay for their leaders, adding: “We consistently challenge trusts where we deem executive pay to be too high, and will continue to do so when it is neither proportionate nor directly linked to improving pupil outcomes.”