Pay freezes and cuts as academy executive pay comes under scrutiny

Academy trust bosses have taken five-figure pay cuts, with others agreeing to a salary freeze, after government attempts to crack down on chief executive pay.

The details are revealed in newly published accounts for 2018-19, with experts claiming that “attitudes in the sector [towards pay] have changed”.

It follows hundreds of trusts being told by the government to justify high salaries.

Sam Henson, director of policy and information at the National Governance Association, said the increased guidance and scrutiny is “helping to curb the excessive executive pay”.

“That some executives are now accepting, and trustees are instigating, pay reduction or freeze shows that attitudes in the sector have changed.”

Andrew Campbell, chief executive of the Brooke Weston Trust, which runs ten schools in Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, said he requested that his salary be reduced to that of a single-school headteacher.

Accounts show his pay fell from £160,000-£165,000 to £145,000-£150,000 last year.

Campbell told Schools Week he has declined pay awards since 2015, adding the trust no longer gives senior performance bonuses and introduced a standard set of pay scales for support staff roles “to iron out sometimes significant salary variation” across the trust.

“I felt that financial incentives were not in the spirit of how we wanted the trust to develop and we could do much more to value people in other ways.”

Top salaries have fallen at other trusts. Nova Education Trust chief executive John Tomasevic’s pay dropped from £260,000-£265,000 in 2017-18 to £215,000-£220,000 last year.

Meanwhile, Keith Whittlestone, chief executive of the Joseph Leckie Academy Trust, saw his remuneration fall from £195,000-£200,000 to £185,000-£190,000 in the same period.

Both trusts refused to comment.

Lord Agnew, academies minister, said: “We welcome efforts from academy trusts to reduce excessive pay, and will continue in our drive to challenge trusts that pay excessive salaries until we are satisfied that they represent good value for money.”

He added salaries “must be justifiable, reflect individuals’ responsibilities and demonstrate value for money”.

Martyn Oliver, chief executive of Outwood Grange Academies Trust, which runs 32 schools across England, has refused the annual inflation pay award since 2013.

When he became chief executive of the trust in 2016, he asked to remain on a lower salary band and rejected offers to move up the pay scale, remaining on £165,000-£170,000.

He told Schools Week he set a “personal challenge” to ensure all staff were paid at least the national living wage, and “didn’t feel comfortable” accepting a rise until then.

This was achieved during 2018-19, so this year Oliver has accepted the 2.75 per cent pay award and is now paid around £173,000. He turned down an opportunity to move up the pay scale through performance management.

“Frankly, I feel that what I’m paid is a very good wage and I didn’t want to be paid any more than that. I think some sense of pay restraint makes me feel better.

“It’s about the mentality and purpose we have as a trust. When I talk about students first and raising standards and transforming lives, I want to be able to come at that from a position where I feel I can personally articulate that.”

Other trusts where salaries remained the same include Graveney Trust, Wellsway Multi Academy Trust, The Thinking Schools Academy Trust and Eastern Multi-Academy Trust.

Leora Cruddas, chief executive of the Confederation of School Trusts, said the sector “must be mindful that this is public money, but equally, we must value leaders”.

“Pay must be proportionate to [the] scale and success of the organisation,” she added.