Schools with excessive pay risk missing out on maintenance cash

Academies that can’t demonstrate good governance and show “restraint” in their chief executive pay face being denied access to maintenance funding.

Ministers have attached the new rule to criteria for next year’s condition improvement fund, an annual grant pot of more than £400 million which funds improvements and upgrades to school buildings.

Schools Week revealed earlier this year how the government demanded schools that won condition improvement funding this year would have to first agree to receive a visit from cost-cutting consultant, with schools “expected” to implement their money-saving recommendations.

Now the Department for Education has announced next year it will favour bids from schools “with good governance and organised finances – including showing restraint on executive salaries”.

The government believes the additional criteria will “incentivise academies and trusts to improve finances and governance”.

Bids will be assessed on a points based criteria. Schools or trusts that pay two or more salaries of over £100,000 or one salary over £150,000 and are deemed to have “have failed to take appropriate action” to tackle pay will get a four-point deduction, and will be less likely to succeed.

Schools and trusts will lose up to an additional four points if they have not submitted a financial improvement plan following a visit from a school resource management adviser, but can gain one extra point if they sign up to the government’s latest funding agreement.

The move is part of a wider clampdown on excessive executive pay enacted by the government in response to heavy criticism of the academies sector. Ministers say more than 50 academy trusts have so far reduced executive pay as a result of their interventions.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said his government wants all pupils “to learn in classrooms that enable them to gain the knowledge and skills they need for success”.

“This year’s multi-million-pound fund will support our pledge to create more good school places and continue raising standards.”

Schools Week revealed in July that the academies minister Lord Agnew, who has made it his personal mission to tackle what he sees as unnecessary waste in schools, had written to trusts to inform them that the next round of CIF funding would be dependent on engaging with school resource management advisers.

At the time, Jonathan Simons, a former policy adviser at Number 10 and now director at policy and PR consultancy Public First, warned that well-run schools with broken boilers or leaky roofs “should be no more compelled to take advice on revenue than they should on the colour paint they should use for the school walls”.

The DfE said unsuccessful CIF applicants “will still have the option of applying for urgent capital support to ensure their buildings are safe for pupils and staff”.

Schools and trusts were handed £433 million between them from the condition improvement fund for 2019-20. It is not known exactly how much will be available in 2020-21. The government has so far only confirmed it will be “more than £400 million”. Applications have opened today.

The cash is available to academies and sixth form colleges to upgrade facilities and address “general wear and tear” of buildings. Those rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ can also win funding to expand.

Unsuccessful bids will still be able to apply for cash under the Urgent Capital Support programme.