CEO pay in the spotlight again as academy boss gets £60k rise

An academy trust ordered to justify its pay by the government handed its chief executive a £60,000 pay rise last year, as salaries for bosses of larger trusts start to rise again.

The total pay of Paul West, chief executive of the Spencer Academies Trust, which runs 20 schools in the East Midlands, rose from at least £155,000 to at least £215,000 last year.

The trust said the rise, which equates to 39 per cent, followed a “significant” growth in academies, number of pupils and employees since September 2017, alongside improving educational and financial performance.

A report this week from global accounting network Kreston found pay for leaders of the largest academy trust bosses had risen after a year of restraint.

Chris Keates, acting general secretary of teachers’ union NASUWT, said the public have a right to know how such decisions are “justified in practice”.

She said this was especially important “at a time when teachers have seen their pay fall by around 20 per cent in real-terms and when many schools and academies are reporting cutting back on support for pupils due to financial pressures”.

West, who was appointed as a member of the East Midlands and the Humber headteacher board in January, took over at the trust in September 2017. He was formerly executive director of education at Delta Academies Trust.

A spokesperson for the trust said executive salaries are benchmarked against similar roles in the sector, referencing “organisational growth and complexity and driven by educational and financial targets”.

The trust had 11 schools when West joined. It now has 20. Five of those joined in the 2018-19 year, according to newly published annual accounts.

Schools Week recently reported how some academy bosses had taken five-figure pay cuts, with others agreeing to a salary freeze, amid government attempts to crack down on high executive pay.

However, the new finding challenges that narrative.

A report by Kreston, which analyses the finances of more than 360 trusts, found the average pay per academy trust leader was £104,108 last year, up from £100,744 in 2018.

However, solely looking at the largest trusts, which have between 5,000 and 15,000 pupils, the rise was much larger. The average salary went up from £115,952 in 2018, to £142,467 in 2019.

The TES reported this week that Hugh Greenway, chief executive of the 27-school Elliot Foundation Academies Trust, had a pay increase of £33,000. His salary rose from £169,720 in 2018, to £202,805 last year.

Greenway said it was not for him to justify the rise, as he was not involved in the decision process. But he highlighted a recent summary MAT evaluation from Ofsted which found leaders helped promote “significant and rapid improvement in the quality of education in most of the trust’s schools”.

The Kreston report added that, overall, there has been “some re-alignment of pay whilst at the same time trusts have been mindful of [academies minister] Lord Agnew’s stance on pay levels”.

Both the Spencer and Elliot Foundation academy trusts were told by the government to justify their pay in February 2018, based on the salaries listed in 2016-17 annual accounts.

The Department for Education said it is “essential that we have the best people to lead our schools if we are to raise standards, but academy trust salaries should be justifiable and reflect the individual responsibility – particularly in cases of significant increases”.

A total of 278 academy trusts have had their pay challenged since 2018 to provide “clear rationale” for awarding the highest salaries. The spokesperson added: “We will be making further challenges in the coming months.”