They’re in charge of a global brand with overseas subsidiaries, run a workforce of 300 at their head office alone and grapple with a budget of £20m to £30m a year. Their key decisions affect hundreds of customers and workers and have far-reaching effects.
Am I speaking about the chief executive of a multinational FTSE-listed business? No, I’m referring to the headteacher of a large modern-day independent school.
Would it be logical to expect a person to do that job — under intense scrutiny from governors, investors and parents — with a penny-pinching pay packet or is it fair to pay a market rate to hire highly capable leaders?
Anyone reading who has worked in the business world will know that in many other sectors someone with that level of responsibility would command a multiple of what a headteacher can earn.
Last week, The Sunday Times revealed its “Private School Pay List” – showing that there are indeed a number of senior staff in UK independent schools receiving handsome rewards for their hard work.
The tone of the article alongside the list – gathered from accounts submitted to the Charity Commission – suggested that these rewards were in some way not merited, and detrimental to leadership recruitment in the state sector.
“There are plenty of good salaries available for talented leaders in the state sector, and they have received much criticism for them too.”
Anyone with any knowledge of pay awards in the education world will know that this is unlikely to be true. There are plenty of good salaries available for talented headteachers and other leaders in the state sector, and they have received much criticism for them too.
The Guardian has reported that a total of 988 academy trusts had at least one person on £100,000 or more in 2017-18, with 146 paying £150,000 or more to at least one employee.
Part of the problem, I think, is the term “head teacher” being so misleading. It is easy to portray them as teachers with chalk in their hand, but in reality they are not. They make decisions that affect the lives of many staff, pupils and their families.
Grumbles about the VAT status of independent schools with charitable status are valid, but not particularly relevant to what we are discussing – i.e. the need to pay market rates for high calibre school leaders, wherever they work.
“The parents are hard-working people who understand market forces, they understand that people should be paid their worth.”
Another claim, that parents in fee-charging schools are “dismayed” by heads’ paypackets is flawed.
Fee-paying parents are handing over their money to have what they believe is the best environment for their child to learn, be safe, and experience education.
Why would that parent expect the leader of that organisation to command the salary of only a moderately-ranking professional in the business sector?
The parents themselves are hard-working, high-achieving people who understand market forces, they understand that people need to be paid their worth.
Indeed, it could well be argued that pressure on pay will only drive highly capable leaders away from independent schools.
“The obsession with rich lists fuels a toxic ‘them and us’ atmosphere that serves no one particularly well.”
Then there is the question of ever-increasing fees. This, we know, has priced many middle class families out of the independent school market. But are headteachers’ salaries the reason they have increased, or is that just the most provocative headline?
Headteachers’ pay is still a relatively small part of the school budget – the rise in fees is more likely to come from overall soaring costs of compliance, staff wages, the demand for smaller class sizes and investment in new facilities. The new hockey pitch or sports hall costing £5m need to be paid for somehow.
Independent schools do try to make their product accessible to as many as possible through bursaries, grants, scholarships and partnerships with the state sector. The Independent Schools Council says 85 per cent of its schools are in “mutually beneficial partnerships” with state schools.
The popular, envy-inducing obsession with rich lists, pay lists and tax lists fuels a toxic “them and us” atmosphere that serves no one particularly well.
Steve Spriggs is managing director of William Clarence Education, the leading education consultancy in the UK. They advise families around the world on school and university applications.
William Clarence Education is also the publisher of Independent School Management Plus and International School Magazine.