The Academy Head, the £4,500 desk and the £170k salary

Henry Stewart's picture
Academies have provided new levels of autonomy to schools. But some have perhaps used this a bit too creatively. At one London academy trust, consisting of two primary schools, the Head is now paid £170,000, the ICT support contract has been given to the Chair of Governor's company and the furniture spend includes almost £4,500 on a desk and £5,000 on a conference table.

How much has your Head spent on their desk? Maybe £200 for a basic one, £500 for something a bit special? At Silver Birch Academy Trust in Waltham Forest they spent £4,487 on the Headteacher's desk, £4,887 on a conference table, £4,967 on a wall unit, £1,687 on a fridge unit and £780 on four plant pots. This came to light from an EFA investigation, after they were contacted by two whistle-blowers in the school. In classic civil service understatement, the report states "we have not seen a business case to support the assertion that these represented value for money."

The furniture, totalling £46,490, was bought without being put out to tender. Although the school policy is to take quotes for spending above £5,000 and the above purchase consisted of 14 invoices, each below the threshold. The Head stated "that there was no intention to split payments and this was not an attempt to avoid the need for written quotations". The fact that so many of the items are for just under £5,000 (including 3 more not listed above) is pure coincidence. On a single day a total of £24,315 was invoiced but these were split into 7 invoices, each under £5,000.

The school's defence is that they can generate income by renting out the rooms that the furniture is in. I submitted a Freedom of Information request a month ago to ask how often they have managed to rent out the headteacher's office, to make full use of that desk, but have received no reply to date.

ICT Services awarded to Chair of Governor's Company

The EFA report also covers the awarding of an ICT services contract, which was won by a company where the Chair of Governors works - despite theirs being the most expensive of the three bids submitted. The investigation, although detailing that the higher bid reflected more services, notes "a lack of clear documentation to support the decision to award the contract".

The £170,000 salary: From public money

The Silver Birch Academy Trust is based in Waltham Forest in East London and consists of just two primary schools. Chingford Hall and Whittingham. They seem to be doing a good job, with Chingford Hall rated Outstandng and Whittingham rated Good. However the trust accounts (download from here, p29) reveal that Executive Headteacher Patricia Davies was paid between £170,000 and £175,000 in the year 2012/13. This is around three times the average salary for a primary headteacher and £30,000 more than the Prime Minister earns. Between the two schools there are just 750 students, and each school also has its own headteacher.

Academy Trusts are free to set salaries as they wish and also to buy whatever equipment and furniture they judge is necessary. However, as Tory MP Richard Bacon thundered when the Public Accounts Committee examined the financial accountability of academies, "this is public money".

The EFA report did not find evidence of fraud and simply proposed a tightening up of financial procedures and governance. But it was outside its remit to address whether the trust was making good use of public money.

Is it really appropriate that our education budget be spent on a £170k salary for a primary headteacher (even an "Executive Headteacher"), £5,000 conference tables and £4,500 desks?


Note: I came across the Silver Birch Academy Trust through involvement in the successful campaign of parents at Snaresbrook Primary School to resist becoming an academy. Silver Birch was the proposed trust for Snaresbrook. I was alerted to the above EFA report by a Snaresbrook parent, who felt very relieved that Snaresbrook had avoided the fate of becoming part of this Trust.



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Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 14:08



page 37:

Part 4: Audit requirements

This part of the handbook explains how academy trusts are subject to scrutiny to give assurance to Parliament, and the public, that funds are used for the purposes intended.

4.1 Statutory audit

4.1.1 In accordance with the Companies Act 2006, academy trusts must:

appoint an auditor, to certify whether the accounts present a true and fair view of the trust’s financial performance and position; and
produce audited accounts.

4.1.2 The contract for the audit must be in writing. This must take the form of a letter of
engagement. The letter of engagement must only cover the external audit. If
additional services are to be purchased, a separate letter of engagement must be
obtained which must specify the precise requirements of the work and the fees to
be charged.

The DFEs accounting hierarchy has teeth in the form of the EFA and it can be argued these are not currently being exercised:

1.5.2 DfE has ultimate responsibility and accountability for the effectiveness of the
financial system for academies. DfE is responsible for ensuring there is an
adequate framework in place to provide assurance that all resources are managed
in an effective and proper manner and that value for money is secured. There is a
clear chain of accountability from each academy trust, which has its own 12
accounting officer, through EFA’s accounting officer, to DfE’s principal accounting

1.5.3 Responsibilities of EFA
1.5.4 EFA is an executive agency of DfE and acts as the agent of the Secretary of State
within an agreed authority to take decisions on his behalf. EFA’s accounting officer
is responsible and accountable to Parliament for how EFA uses its funds. EFA’s
accounting officer is also personally responsible for the regularity and propriety of
all expenditure of its funds and for ensuring value for money. To discharge these
duties, EFA’s accounting officer must be satisfied that an academy trust has
appropriate arrangements for sound governance, financial management, securing
value for money and accounting, and that the way the trust uses public funds is
consistent with the purposes for which the funds were voted by Parliament.
1.5.5 EFA’s accounting officer will send a ‘Dear Accounting Officer’ letter annually to all
academy trust accounting officers, setting out their key responsibilities and
highlighting any changes from previous years. Accounting officers should share
this letter with their trustees, and chief financial officer and other members of the
senior leadership team.
1.5.6. EFA Intervention Powers
1.5.7 Where EFA has concerns about financial management and/or governance in an
academy trust (including a multi-academy trust or constituent academies within a
multi-academy trust) it may issue, and publish, a Financial Notice to Improve
(FNtI). The trust must comply with all of the terms of an FNtI. Failure to comply will
be deemed a breach of the funding agreement by virtue of the relationship
between the funding agreement and the handbook. In exceptional circumstances
the funding agreement may be terminated due to non-compliance with the terms
of the FNtI.

I also note that even speed reading through it the handbook is regularly punctuated with the terminology 'value for money'

Alan Stanton's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 14:16

One of my favourite parables is that of the six blind men and the elephant. Here's a Jain version.

There are many other versions from different parts of India - with Hindu, Buddhist and Sufi variations In some stories the blind men fall into and maintain bitter disagreement . In others a King mediates.

I like the Jain version because it ends with all participants happily learning and sharing their experience and knowledge. Each having their own individual - and partial - hypothesis respected, tested and in some ways validated. For the blind men it's a lesson in the power of building united judgement - mutual learning and a win-win outcome.

Also in the Jain story, the resolution is reached with the assistance of an objective external agent. A wise outsider with no hidden agenda, who brings their own, wider powers of detection and deeper knowledge and experience of elephants.

For me, as someone who - once upon a long time ago - was appointed as a Special Measures Governor to a failing primary school, the Jain version has a crucially important feature. The six blind men share trust and confidence in the expert's honesty and objectivity.

So the story may have had a less happy ending if the wise man was distrusted. For example because he and his wise colleagues had to rush around among far too many villages. Or if he'd been appointed by Michael Goveji as a "broker" working with the DfE (Department for Failing Elephants). Or worse: OFSTED - the Office for Selling Transformed Elephant Dung.

There is, incidentally, a version of the story where a group of blind elephants closely examine an academy broker to find out what sort of creature it is. The answer they discover? Completely useless and totally flat. Which is more or less the same answer as that reached by people with a fixed belief in the superiority of academies and free schools when they encounter a successful community school.

There's even a poem. Sung beautifully by Natalie Merchant.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 14:34

Andy (no reply button and I'm getting lost in the thread) - you're right that 'value for money' appears constantly in the Academies Handbook. It's not even necessary to speed read - you can do a search. But the point I have made several times is this: if the academy trustees think something is value for money and the external auditor agrees (although s/he doesn't have to consider value for money) then the accounts would be passed. It would then take a whistleblower to point out such dubious uses of taxpayers' money as:

1 Buying an expensive china tea set;

2 Spending thousands on a table which can be bought from ESPO for a tenth of the cost;

3 Allowing a lucrative contract to go to a firm connected to a trustee

4 Operating in a culture of extravagance

5 Awarding the executive principal an eye-watering salary;

6 Being so lax as to allow a trustee to have sex toys and games delivered to one of the trust's academies.

7 Susbidising a governor on a trip abroad.

8 Employing several relatives of the principal.

I've made none of the above up. Presumably these appeared in the academy trust's accounts (or should have done if they're following the Academies Handbook from which you have quoted at length). And presumably the accounts were all passed by an external auditor.

No doubt the trustees could justify all the above (except possibly the sex toys and games) as 'value for money'. Taxpayers might not agree.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 14:39

Andy - in my list of academy trustees using taxpayers' money in ways which would raise eyebrows I forgot the one where trustees somehow missed that the trust was claiming £1m for non-existent students. The external auditor appears to have missed it too.

Alan Stanton's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 15:09

But Janet, without having the time to trawl through the archives, nevertheless I'm pretty confident that similar abuses have occurred over the years in community schools. So anecdotal comparisons of beams and motes don't take us very far.

Isn't the issue about checks and balances? When things go wrong - which they always will - which system and inspection framework will prevent, detect, and take more effective action?

I mentioned becoming a Special Measures Governor. It was in the first school which failed its OFSTED inspection in my local authority. Several new Governors informally asked a few staff whether they thought OFSTED's inspection report was accurate. They told us it wasn't. We asked why. "Because things are a lot worse than that."

At that time we found OFSTED - and the HMI who followed up - to be trustworthy and helpful. Truthful and helpful to us in turning the school round as fast as possible. In the interests of the children and families at the school. Not in the service of an ideology.

Is there now a school in England which doesn't at least *suspect* that OFSTED has been hijacked as an academy-creation machine? How many people are confident that there's a "level playing field" when academies are found to be abusing their powers - financial or otherwise?

Andy V's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 15:13

The fact of the matter is that we are in agreement over inappropriate use of taxpayer funding.

It is my position that the handbook has sufficient regulation to avoid this type of impropriety and the accounting/audit hierarchy has sufficient clout to take robust action (i.e. from withdrawal of state funding to ordering refunds and referral of matters to the police). The latter hierarchy stretches from the internal academy accounting officer to the chain's chief accountancy officer up to the EFA and DFE, and even to parliament through the organs of the PAC and NAO. It follows then that for these things to be happening with the frequency that they clear are the matter is not regulatory but one of policing, and it this that needs addressing. Hence I belief that the PAC and Select Committee for Education must make concerted efforts to put a stop to this.

But I also assert that this type of scrutiny cannot be focused on academies/free schools alone but also on maintained schools.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Thu, 23/10/2014 - 18:36

One of the more unsavoury aspects of the migration of the National College for Teaching Leadership website to the GOV.UK portal is the easy access to the outcomes of teacher misconduct hearings. Appalled by the lack of confidentiality I have to confess to reading quite a few ( my overall impression was that middle aged female teachers are treated far more harshly than the male teachers who are generally being over familiar with female students...but that's a digression for a different thread)
I remember back in September reading the case of a harassed but honest headteacher who had failed to follow the LA's financial guidelines for procurement in a similar vein to the case cited by Henry. For this the poor HT was prohibited for ( as I remember) a minimum of 2 years , even though she had been poorly advised by the school's financial adviser.

So why hasn't the headteacher in charge of this school been referred to the National College misconduct panel ?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 09:20

Andy - LA maintained schools are subject to scrutiny. They're included in LA audit. LAs are obliged to make public any concerns and also consider value for money.

LAs now have to report cases of fraud to the NAO. This safeguard was put in place in 2011 and the first cases of fraud concerning maintained schools were reported in 2012/13 when there were 191 cases of fraud in maintained schools worth £2.3m. 86 of these involved internal fraud worth £1.9m while 105 were cases of external fraud where schools were victims.

However, this doesn't solve the problem of value for money. It may be, of course, that LA auditors might consider a desk costing £4000 is value for money. But then again, they might not. Such expenditure isn't fraudulent - it's just questionable.

It's quite appropriate to publicise wrongdoing whether by academies, free schools or maintained schools. But wrongdoing by the latter can't be commented on it it isn't found. I'm sure you're not suggesting that we should not mention wrongdoing by academies just because the same wrongdoing hasn't been discovered in maintained schools.

That said, the NAO warned that neither the EFA or LAs had the necessary resources to oversee school finances adequately. This resulted in them having to rely too much on whistleblowers as discussed here.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 09:26

"I'm sure you're not suggesting that we should not mention wrongdoing by academies just because the same wrongdoing hasn't been discovered in maintained schools."

I've be abundantly plain and up front from the very outset that all impropriety in the use of taxpayers funding should be addressed and dealt with irrespective of the type of state school.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 09:32

Andy - thanks for the clarification. I was beginning to think I couldn't mention wrongdoing at an academy unless I could find a similar case of wrongdoing at a non-academy to avoid charges of not being even-handed.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 11:34

School Improvement Net reports on headteacher in a LA maintained school being paid £205,000 pa (including pension contribution).

Sutton Council said Mrs Ramsey’s high salary was because she covered her work at Bandon Hill Schools as well as that supporting other schools across the country.

They obviously think she's providing value for money. But the Council has a responsibility to ensure that taxpayers' money is used appropriately. Paying a head more than the Chief Executive of Sutton Council is not.

Barry Wise's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 11:40

Why should the chief executive of Sutton council be paid significantly more than the head of a big secondary?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 12:20

Barry - actually, you're right. Chief Executives of councils are overpaid as well. Yes, the job carries great responsibility but so do less well-remunerated jobs (such as being a classroom teacher on a daily basis rather than an executive principal sitting at a desk even if it didn't cost £4000).

The gap between CEOs, executive principals etc and the people who actually deliver the services is widening. Teachers have had their pay pegged and are now told they must be subjected to performance-related pay. But this pay restraint doesn't seem to apply to those who will decided whether teachers deserve their pay or not.

When Gove was shadow secretary he said no head teacher should earn more than the shadow secretary for education. When he became SoS he decided to do nothing about it. A cynic might say that's because some of those highly-paid heads publicly supported his policies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 12:28

Janet - This confirms my view that the core issue is one of culture. Academies and Free Schools have changed the culture (for the worse in my view) across the education system. In fact the facilitating framework for this cultural decline was the 1988 Education Reform Act.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 12:40

In light of the 'grooming' and gross exploitation of underage girls in Rotherham, why has the CEO been allowed to work out his notice on full pay and why did the LA approve a £40,000 goodbye handshake to its now former head of CYPS (Mrs Thacker)? Not sure these are good value for money decisions. Neither are they examples of public services are always best.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 13:20

Andy - This thread is about financial probity. You are raising issues of possible underperformance by employees. This latter is much more complicated and is an area where there are always two sides to every story. Presumably the Rotherham LA wants to avoid what happened in the Baby P case where the Head of Social Services was publicly vilified and sacked by order of the Secretary of State only for subsequent due and proper processes to find in her favour.

Of course public services can fail, but the point is that they ultimately fail in public. In Rotherham, as with Savile, as with the (ongoing) Trojan horse affair, these have been complex multi-agency failures.

If you want examples of really gross, ongoing rewarding of executive failure then the bankers responsible for 2008 crash and many other subsequent major scandals must come top of the premier league of malpractice.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 13:30

I could have guessed that it's the argument of one rule or some and another for others.

The Sixsmith case was highly regrettable a direct result of a cabinet minister going cowboy rogue and not following due process. Had she been suspended, case investigated and then found guilty of gross misconduct the situation wouldn't have arisen. But hey just another political Ball's up that cost the taxpayer!

Thus the Rotherham CEO and now ex Director of CYPS should have been dealt with in accordance with internal misconduct protocols and hey presto no payouts - either to the individuals via the LA or a Tribunal.

Bottom line is that the tax and council tax payers have not received value for money and the underage victims have been short changed again.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 14:04


'Thus the Rotherham CEO and now ex Director of CYPS should have been dealt with in accordance with internal misconduct protocols and hey presto no payouts - either to the individuals via the LA or a Tribunal.'

You are right, and this is the nub of the issue. As Janet has repeatedly pointed out, no appropriate INVESTIGATORY 'protocols' appear to exist in relation to the finances of Academies. This is not so in the case of LA schools. But now we are back where we started and I see no point in going around the circuit again.

Andy V's picture
Fri, 24/10/2014 - 14:11

I suggest you refresh your memory regarding the most recent discussions between Janet and me.

Investigatory powers do exist but, and put minimalistically, there are insufficient resources to implement them and enforce appropriate follow-up consequences.

I also suggest you take the time to read my posts relating to the finance handbook or even the handbook before you assert inaccuracies.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 08:42

Andy - Last night's BBC programme (27 Oct) suggests that your analysis of the likely outcome in relation to Sixsmith is incorrect.

The programme strongly supported your view that politicians should keep out and let due process take its course. What is clear is that the case was very complex and that Cameron, Balls, various NHS agencies, the police and OfSTED probably have more questions to answer than the social workers and their boss.

It is also another example of the folly of lumping education in with 'children's services' at both LA and government level.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 08:58

I made no "analysis". My comment was that the woman was unfairly dismissed. The laid down employment/disciplinary processes were not followed and consequently the Tribunal (rightly in my view) found in her favour. Had due process been followed it is unlikely that there would have been a case for unfair dismissal and ergo no Tribunal.

Do stop trying to spin things.

Alan Stanton's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 14:44

About the "Sixsmith" case, can either of you please tell me which unfair dismissal "Tribunal" case you are referring to?

If perhaps you mean the Sharon Shoesmith case, then it was in the Court of Appeal and not an Employment Tribunal. The central issues included "public law" issues of lawfulness; natural justice, and actions which had the appearance of predetermination.

On my reading - I may be wrong - it was not part of Haringey's case that Sharon should have been dismissed for gross misconduct. Haringey relied on lawfulness of her dismissal by Ed Balls; and the loss of Trust and Confidence based on the urgent OFSTED Report produced for him.

Given the TV documentary and - if you saw it the Newsnight, interview with Sharon afterwards - I found it interesting to recall Lord Justice Kay's comment that
" 'Accountability' is not synonymous with 'Heads must roll'."

Although the Sixsmith case may have been far more straightforward, in the Shoesmith case the judges set out complex steps which Haringey could have taken.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Sharon Shoesmith's case against OFSTED. However, I hope that at least some people viewing the Panorama documentary will have had their confidence in that body severely shaken. Not least because of the number of drafts which were said to have been increasingly critical before it was deemed suitable for Ed Balls. Also in the light of comments about OFSTED by other contributors to the film.

When trust and confidence is severely weakened in the independence, fairness, record keeping, and role of OFSTED, then where are the effective checks and balances? As the documentary showed, the Parliamentary Select Committee on Children Schools and families, chaired by Barry Sheerman MP. met a wall when it came to evidence.

Andy V's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 15:28

Alan, Mea culpa, it is of course the Shoesmith case to which I referred. Clearly I confused the types of court for which I apologise. Your interpretation of the ruling chimes with mine. That is to say, the SoS Educ acted unlawfully in arbitrarily dismissing her from her position.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 17:09

Sorry, I meant Shoesmith not Sixsmith.

Cathy Wood's picture
Tue, 28/10/2014 - 17:52

Did she need the office to look nice for when Gove came to tea?
He too has a track record for spending large sums of public money on furnishings. Perhaps it's an interest they have in common and can chat about over a cuppa.


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