The Education and Skills Funding Agency spent more than £500,000 on cash awards for civil servants last year.
A total of 828 employees got awards worth £511,115 in 2017-18, an average of £617 each.
This includes £22,000 for the pilot chief executive awards, set up by Eileen Milner, the agency’s head, to reward employees who “demonstrate initiative”.
The agency had also spent £339,000 of its £446,900 current annual awards budget by the end of January this year.
The details, obtained via a freedom of information request, come as a survey of 407 secondary headteachers from the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) showed almost all respondents (404) had made budget cuts since 2015, with 60 per cent saying the cuts were “severe”.
The Department for Education has also been criticised for saying schools could only afford a 2 per cent pay rise for teachers, despite pressure from unions for a 5 per cent rise.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of ASCL, said: “It is important at any time, and particularly with school funding currently under such enormous pressure, that government departments are careful about the perception they might inadvertently create through their own pay schemes, and that they ensure their policies clearly demonstrate the best possible value for money.”
Between September 2018 and January 2019, 686 ESFA employees received awards averaging £466 each.
A total of 44 received £500 prizes in the chief executive pilot. Awards range from £250 to £1,000.
A spokesperson for the DfE said the awards “acknowledged outstanding achievements of staff with a focus on excellence, expertise and improvement.
“The money used comes from an existing staffing fund and does not affect the funding for schools or colleges.”