Following the publication of the Public Accounts Committee report criticising Department for Education (DfE) oversight of academies, BBC World at One devoted a sizeable section of today's programme to the issue.
Laura McInerney, contributing editor for Schools Week, Guardian columnist and Freedom of Information warrior, explained the role of academy trustees. She also described why there's a problem with related-party transactions and why questions can arise about how academy assets had been used when trusts fold. She wanted the DfE to set a cap on CEO and executive pay in academy trusts or introduce a scale.
This was followed by a debate between Mary Bousted, joint secretary of the National Education Union, and Mark Lehain, newly-appointed head of the New Schools Network, the taxpayer funded charity which supports free school bids.
Bousted expressed concern that the DfE could do nothing about the level of CEO or executive pay in academy trusts. She cited an unnamed academy trust with very few academies where the principal had received a pay rise of tens of thousands of pounds but the teachers in the academies complained there was insufficient money for photocopying and they were having to buy resources with their own money.
Mark Lehain said academies programme had given freedom for 'those on the front line' to best decide how to spend their money (forgetting that it's not those at the chalkface who make this decision but academy trustees). He said investigations into CEO pay should be on a case-by-case basis and cited Harris Federation as a multi-academy trust where the highly-paid CEO (nearly half-a-million) merited the salary because of the high performance of Harris academies.
Bousted countered this by saying there had been concerns about 'off-rolling' in Harris academies whereby pupils likely to reduce overall exam results were taken off roll.
Lehain said half of England's schools are now academies (not true, latest DfE stats, downloadable here, say 65% of England's schools are still non-academies). He agreed that academies needed to be transparent - they must not only do the right thing but be seen to be doing so. He had no objection to the PAC suggestion that related-party transactions be agreed with the Education and Skills Funding Agency'
*The discussion can be heard on Listen Again, about 19 minutes into the programme.