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Wednesday, 21 February 2018 20:29

Knole Academy and the Scandal of Exorbitant Headteacher Pay in Kent and Medway

Update 26th April: Last evening BBC SE ran a programme on cuts at a Sussex school, whilst the salary of the Chief Executive of TKAT Academy Trust, with its 43 academies, including 11 in Kent and Medway has increased 7% to £165,000. Why does there remain NO media interest in the head of Single School Trust Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, with her salary of £210,000, an increase of 35% in three years?

Update: Shortly after I published this article, the national BBC led with the same issue on its website, although amazingly there has been no local media interest at all. Is it that this is not of interest as it is what people expect?

The headteacher of The Knole Academy in Sevenoaks, a moderately performing single school academy, was paid £210,000 in 2016-17 making her the highest paid academy head or Chief Executive in Kent and Medway. This is an increase of 35% over the past three years after what can only be described as an irresponsible series of decisions by Governors, bringing the whole process into disrepute, and undermining the credibility of the very real financial crisis in schools, as explained below. By contrast the Principal of Homewood School, the largest secondary school in the county, had a salary of just £110,000 last year, one of majority of secondary heads around or below £100,000.


After Knole come the CEOs of two of Kent’s largest Academy Trusts, both responsible for more than a dozen primary and secondary schools: Swale AT and Leigh AT at £190,000 and £180,000 respectively.

Grammar School Academy Headteachers are generally paid from around £85,000 to £110,000 annually, with Dartford Grammar School, the largest and most oversubscribed grammar school in the county on the latter sum. Highest paid Grammar School Head is at Rainham Mark Grammar, Medway. with £155,000 (£90,000 for HT salary, £65,000 for Academy Trust CEO), followed by Barton Court, Canterbury, at £125,000 (also a Trust CEO).

At primary level the previous highest earner, the Head of Meopham Community Academy, has now retired from his £150,000 salary post, his replacement being employed at less than half of that rate. The highest paid heads of schools or multi academy trusts I have found this time round are the same two single standing academies as previously: The Academy of Woodlands in Gillingham, £105,000 in 2015-16, and St Stephen’s Academy, a Junior school in Canterbury on, the same figure for 2016-17.

I look more closely at the Knole situation, and that of other high paying academies below. 

I only have access to the figures for salaries of the highest paid staff at Academies or Multi-Academy Trusts, who are nearly always Headteachers or Chief Executives in the Accounts published by Companies House. I have not looked at every Academy Trust in Kent and Medway, but primarily those which came up in my previous survey of 2014-15 salaries and others which look interesting. However, I have subsequently been referred to a list of all Academy Trusts with at least one member of staff on over £150,000 for 2015-16, published by government, and I had identified all of these. In most cases I have published Accounts for 2016-17, others are still awaited, and I have consulted 2015-16 records for these. Salaries are generally quoted in £5,000 or £10,000 bands and in all cases I have chosen the lowest figure or given the range.

Local Schools
The three Tunbridge Wells non-selective schools all carry an Outstanding OFSTED rating: St Gregory’s Catholic School, salary £100,000); Skinners Kent Academy (Headteacher widely recognised as inspirational and transformational) salary £140,000; Tenax AT (Bennett Memorial Diocesan and CEO of three primary schools) salary £120,000.
The two Brook Learning Trust Schools, Hayesbrook school Tonbridge and High Weald Academy, Cranbrook, both have a headteacher on £90,000 or less; Hillview School’s Headteacher is on £90,000. None of the three West Kent grammar school headteachers has a salary of over £100,000 per annum. 
The Headteacher of Amherst School, the high achieving Junior School just down the road from Knole is paid an annual salary of £70,000. 
The Corporate Director for Education and Young People’s Services, Patrick Leeson, retired on a salary of £168,016 last year, with a small expenses budget in addition. 
The Chief Executive Officer of Aquila, the Diocese of Canterbury Academy Trust was paid £70-80,000 for 2015-16, with just three others, probably headteachers, earning £60-70,000 the maximum salary for the 17 heads of primary schools in the Trust.
The Vice Chancellor of University for the Creative Arts based in Canterbury, Maidstone, Rochester and three other sites, salary £190,000 in 2015-16.
The Principal of Hadlow College with 1800 full time further and HE students was paid £204,000.
Principals of the other Kent FE Colleges, including West Kent College with its 4500 students, were all paid less than £200,000, and all manage large and complex multi-site enterprises offering a vast variety of full-time and part-time courses.
Text RIC Main
The highest paid CEO in 2015-16 was the CEO of the Thinking Schools Academy Trust, comprising four secondary and seven primary schools across Medway and Portsmouth. She was on a salary of £215,000 per annum, but left suddenly mid year after a disciplinary case reported in The Times that concluded without action being taken after (as?) she had resigned from the Trust. She received a pay off of £80,000. Her successor is on the far more reasonable salary of £140,000 for a middle sized Trust. 
Update: I have now been sent correspondence relating to a pension consultant who advises on tax avoidance for headteachers. The scheme being implemented in this case involves the headteacher leaving and then re-entering the Teachers Pension scheme for five month periods indefinitely. Apparently it is legal, but has opened my eyes to a new field of activity for headteachers to spend time enhancing their income. Naturally the consultant charges a fee to the academy trust, start up cost £1,500, for advising on such matters, although it is debatable whether this and the administrative work generated are a proper use of Academy funds.  
 Knole Academy
At the time of my previous survey, the Principal had been paid £155,000 in 2013-14, rising to £175,000 in 2014-15 because of a ‘performance bonus’, although the school had been relegated to ‘Requires Improvement’ by OFSTED. Since then there has been a leap to £195,000 for 2015/16, then a further 11% increase for 2016-17 to £210,000-£215,000, more than double the salaries of  the two next highest paid staff on £80,000-£90,000. Just one other staff member earned as much as £60,000-£70,000. The school Teachers Review Body has recommended a maximum pay increase of 2% for some teachers and 1% for all others. One can only imagine how good this is for staff morale. 
In December 2017, the Chief Executive of the Education Skills and Funding Agency wrote to Chairs of stand alone Academy Trusts where accounts showed an annual salary of more than £150,000 was being paid, such as Knole. She asked for the rationale behind the decision and the due process followed. It would be interesting to see the Knole Academy response.  
For Progress 8 at GCSE in 2017, now regarded as the preferred measure of performance by government, Knole Academy came 26th out of 65 non-selective Kent schools. In Attainment it came 21st, but by both measures it came below all of the other five urban non-selective West Kent academies (excluding High Weald in Cranbrook, with a very different type of catchment area). In terms of size, there are fourteen Kent non-selective schools larger. Not directly relevant perhaps, but Knole Academy is the only school in Kent with as many as five permanent exclusions in 22016-17.
The OFSTED Report of September 2017 (after 2016-17 salary had been set) raised the Grading of the school to ‘Good’. It is fulsome in its praise of senior leaders, but unusually makes little mention of the Principal, although it opens with the bald sentence ‘The Principal is ambitious’.  

Teacher’s Salaries are decided by the Staffing Committee of the Academy Governing Body, who in the case of Knole clearly have no idea what criteria should be applied. Simply looking around West Kent, so that cost of living is removed as a factor, every other academy is performing better than Knole. At the time of the most recent salary award, Knole Academy was classified as ‘Requires Improvement’, three of the others are ‘Outstanding’, and the two others ‘Good’. The great majority of other self-standing academies award an annual salary of £110,000 or less. The only two exceptions, apart from Skinners Kent Academy that I can find are Kent’s two all-through 4-19 schools, being Folkestone and John Wallis in Ashford, both in areas of considerable social deprivation.

Leigh Academy Trust
Unusually, the highest paid employee, the CEO of the Trust, does not appear the highest remunerated according to the Company Accounts, although he had a salary increase of £15,000 to £180,000 an increase of 9%. Leigh Academy Trust was responsible for seven secondary schools, seven primary schools and a Special school in 2016-17. 
The next two highest paid staff members are on salaries of £130,000, likely be Executive Directors, as  named Principals of two of the secondary academies are on £100,000. 
Swale Academy Trust,
Is responsible for four secondary and six primary schools in 2016-17 and hit the national news last year, the CEO having a salary increase of £20,000 annually to £190,000 for 2016-17, although half of this was a pension adjustment. I understand this was to achieve taxation benefits through a temporary withdrawal from the Teachers Pension Scheme, a device also made available to other senior staff. A second employee, unnamed, has also been on a salary of £190,000, probably the Executive Head Secondary. I can't see reference in the accounts to 'the four BMWs provided for the CEO and three other top Trust Executives to carry out their duties' as described in the article. There are just two more employees at over £100,000 and less than £120,000, one of whom is the likely to be the Executive Head, Primary.Three more staff earn more than £80,000 presumably accounting for all the secondary headteachers. 
Oasis Community Learning
In contrast look at Oasis Community Learning, one of the largest Academy Trusts in the country, with 50 secondary and primary academies, including Oasis Isle of Sheppey Academy the second largest school in Kent, although one of the worst by many criteria. This group had just one employee, presumably the CEO, at a salary of £200,000 in 2016-17, then three at £120,000, eight at £110,000 and six at £100,000. Many of the top performers, although not all, will be the heads of secondary academies, so little evidence of salary inflation here.
Government Action
According to the online site Schools Week, the government Academies Minister 'has written to chairs of academy trust boards urging them to take their financial responsibilities seriously, and not to over-reward trust bosses. In particular he said the salaries of non-teaching senior leaders should not rise at a faster rate than for classroom staff'. He also warned that the 'chief executive at the Education Skills and Funding Agency would soon be writing to multi-academy trusts if an employee was earning more than £150,000'. 
It is partially a matter of opinion as to what a headteacher should be paid, but ability, performance, size and challenge of the task and market forces are clearly relevant factors. Whatever the figure settled on, it is surely wrong to see leaders receiving double digit percentage pay rises whilst the teaching profession as a whole sees its pay pegged down, high numbers of teachers leaving because of workload, stress and poor conditions of service, recruitment becoming increasingly difficult, and the state education being in financial crisis. 
Stories of 'Fat Cats' in schools tend to apply to those at very top of Multi Academy Trusts, Knole Academy being an exception, with limited evidence that those further down the line are financially better off than  headteachers outside.  

Governing Body Committees fixing salaries may argue that recruitment and retention of good leaders is critical to the success of a school, which it is, but some of the examples of bad practice given above will simply attract the high levels of criticism already levelled at the current scandal of Vice Chancellors’ pay, and bring the whole pay structure into disrepute.

I was criticised after my previous article, on the grounds that I was encouraging new high targets for Headteachers to achieve, and certainly looking at some of the numbers above, it is easy to form an opinion  that these are the norm. However, the reality is that the large majority of secondary headteachers are paid no more than £100,000, down as far as £70,000. What is evident however, is that some inexperienced or incompetent Governing Bodies are being bamboozled into paying ridiculous salaries, without thought of the impact these will have on the rest of their school staff, the school finances or the public perception of schools with money to burn, at a time of real financial crisis in schools. I hope that this article will encourage a sense of reality. 

Certainly, Governors at The Knole Academy, surely the worst offender by some way, have real culpability for their failures exposed here, and have shown themselves unfit for the purpose of governing the school.

Last modified on Thursday, 26 April 2018 18:57


  • Comment Link Tuesday, 27 February 2018 23:22 posted by SCC Parent

    Re your update: I contacted Kent Messenger to express my disgust at the salary of the CEO of Swale. They said it wasn't a new story, but you appear to have found a lot more. Is there a conspiracy to keep the scandals you uncover out of the press? PETER: I really don't know. One experienced education professional thought this one was a national story, but it has fallen on deaf ears. Presumably the media thinks all is well! Why was no one interested in the scandalous failure of Medway Council with regard to its vulnerable SEN children? Why is no one interested in the dubious activities of SchoolsCompany at Goodwin Academy? I could go on.

  • Comment Link Friday, 23 February 2018 23:09 posted by Lowly paid Academy Deputy Principal working all hours for fat cat

    Its all very well government writing to these academies and ticking them off; or even you exposing them publicly as ripping off the schools and education service. The bottom line is that as we have seen elsewhere, such people have no conscience. Neither do they care for the people for whom they are responsible. They simply have thick hides and laugh all the way to the bank and obscenely large pensions.

  • Comment Link Friday, 23 February 2018 10:31 posted by Concerned ex-KA staff member

    Also of note is that the Knole Requires Improvement Ofsted inspection specifically mentioned lack of scrutiny from the Governing Body. PETER: and yet they found governance good this time round in spite of poor performance at GCSE and financial incompetence!

  • Comment Link Friday, 23 February 2018 09:52 posted by Sevenoaks parent

    Peter, slightly more concerning is the number of key people on the Knole Governors list. Dr Katy Ricks, Headteacher of Sevenoaks School, local councillor Nick Chard to name but a few of local influential figures. Very embarrassing! PETER: And they need to be embarrassed and called to account.

  • Comment Link Friday, 23 February 2018 07:15 posted by Embarrassed School Governor (school supplied!)

    Congratulations Peter on beating the BBC to the draw once again! This article should be compulsory reading for every school governor in Kent and Medway. Shame governors can't be sacked or held accountable for their actions, but at least you should have embarrassed them!
    As for the Knole Governors - words fail me!

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