Lord Storey: Making Multi Academy Trusts do the right thing

Posted On: 
25th April 2018

Former Primary School headteacher, Lib Dem House of Lords Education spokesperson Lord Storey writes ahead of his question on 'Gender pay gaps in academy schools and trusts'.


In the “good old days”, when I was a primary head, my teachers, whether male or female, were paid the same rate for the same job, getting the same annual increments and the same additional allowance for taking on extra responsibilities. As a head, I was paid the same as the woman head teacher who ran a similar size school and my two assistant head teachers – a man and a woman – were paid the identical salaries.

Multi Academy Trusts (MATs), the new educational kids on the block, often feel – and often are – a law unto themselves. They were first introduced by Tony Blair, who wanted to build brand new schools in inner cities as a way of improving the life chances of young people. “City Academies” as they were first known were impressive, well-designed schools, with the additional resources (from a private sponsor) and “autonomy”, to do their own thing. Autonomy meant, in fact, freedom from what was seen as the dead hand of local authority control. Taking schools out of the local authority – and diminishing the role of the local authority, was very much an intended consequence of the policy – driven by Andrew (now Lord) Adonis. 

The commercial sponsor of each academy, in exchange for £2m (which the commercial sponsor could pay in kind or in cash, or often, not at all) was outside of education law. Academies did not have to follow the national curriculum, nor national pay and conditions, nor have a governing body (in the accepted sense of the word).

Within three months of the 2010 election, Michael Gove had driven the Academies Act 2010 onto the statute book but he turned the concept on its head. Any outstanding school could opt into being an academy – and out of the local authority – by a simple majority of governors taking a vote. It was not even necessary to consult parents!

The attraction of academy status under Michael Gove was that each school took its pro rata share of the local authority central budget.

By 2018, the majority of secondary schools had become academies and, to achieve economies of scale, many combined to form what are known as Multi-Academy Trusts. There are now hundreds of MATs, who exercise their autonomy, and lack of accountability in all sorts of ways. Many MATs have now set up central bureaucracies, with chief officers and senior managers paying themselves very large salaries – much higher than equivalent staff in local authorities.

MATs are much less accountable than community schools and much less transparent about their employment policies. From the data that is available:

• in one sample of 471 MATs, the median pay gap was 31.7% in favour of men.
• according to Personnel Today, which looked at data from 91 MATs, the gender pay gap was 29.7%, well above the 18.4% national average calculated by the Office for National Statistics.
• a Guardian survey of 200 MATs showed that 70% of them had a worse median pay gap than the UK average

Concerns about how MATs reward senior staff have been raised the Department for Education on many occasions, but the reply is always about how MATs are autonomous bodies. The freedom of MATs to pay their senior staff, who are mainly men, up to £400k a year is something neither the DfE nor the the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) seem concerned about. HMG’s mantra is:
“Academy trusts are free to set their own salaries, but these must reflect the complexity and size of the task and we expect these to be justifiable.”
We need to see how justifiable the salaries are – and how MATs can justify the gender pay gap.

The Lord Storey CBE is the Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson for Education