A top teachers’ union is calling for an inquiry after concerns were raised that the head of a Northamptonshire academy chain is earning up to £180,000... and her husband and daughter now work alongside her at the secondary school.
Last week a whistleblower claiming to be a teacher at Sir Christopher Hatton Academy in Wellingborough sent letters to the school’s board of directors to raise concerns about senior pay, employment of close family members at the school and governance.
The author called on the directors to justify the large salary increase afforded to its principal Victoria Bishop, who accounts show, now earns between £175,000 and £180,000 - a total of £20,000 more than the Prime Minister Theresa May.
Mrs Bishop is described on the school’s website as executive principal of the school, as well as director and CEO of the academy chain.
“Mrs Bishop was earning between 110 and 120 thousand pounds per year,” the letter reads.
“At this time this would have been extremely competitive salary for the head teacher of a secondary school in a provincial town.
“However, the accounts show that in the last four years, her salary has increased by about 50 per cent to between 175 and 180 thousand pounds per year.
“This is frankly just an obscene amount of money to be coming out of the taxpayer’s purse.”
Staff wages, on the other hand, have increased an average of three per cent a year during that time, according to a representative for the school.
The letter goes on to raise a further 48 queries about school governance and raises concerns relating to the fact that Mrs Bishop’s daughter, Claire, and husband, Barry,also occupy senior positions at the school. Barry is an IT teacher whereas Claire is listed as being one of several assistant principals.
Ofsted rated the academy as “outstanding” in 2015 and praised the leadership during its inspection report of the time.
But Alan Hackett, senior member of the teachers’ union NASUWT, told this newspaper he intended to escalate the allegations made by the whistleblower to a national level.
“We as a union don’t object to people earning a decent salary,” he said.
“But not at the expense of other staff and of the pupils as well.
“When you consider that four years ago she was on £112,000, which was an excellent wage, too high a wage some would say.
“Most head teachers at the time were on about £80,000 to £100,000.
“For it to be increased to £180,000 is obscene.”
Mrs Bishop is in charge of three primary schools (Oakway Academy and Victoria Primary Academy in Wellingborough, and Ecton Village Primary Academy) and a secondary school. CEOs of school academy chains can earn anything between £130.000 and £400,000 - according to Times Education Supplement figures from 2014/2015.
Mr Hackett has pledged to raise the matter with the NASUWT general secretary Chris Keates and believes the regional schools commissioner, Ofsted, or even the secretary of state Justine Greening should carry out an inquiry.
He said the academy had a pressing need for transparency as he claims it has recently expressed an interest in sponsoring schools previously run by The Education Fellowship, which collapsed amid claims of misspending earlier this year.
The pay rise, approved by a board of directors that includes Burton Latimer town councillor Fergus Macdonald, makes Mrs Bishop one of the top-paid heads in the country.
In comparison, Northampton School for Boys headmaster Richard Bernard earns between £55,000 and £60,000 less despite the fact the school regularly tops county-wide league tables.
Mr Hackett continued: “In September staff will be entering into their pay increment talks.
“We will be pursuing every person that did not get a pay rise, I can promise them that.”
When this newspaper spoke to Mrs Bishop yesterday she declined to comment on her pay, or the hiring of her immediate family members.
In September 2015 Sir Christopher Hatton Academy was awarded National Teaching School status and National Support School status with Mrs Bishop a designated National Leader of Education.
A press release sent by the academies trust board of directors says: “The Board of Directors confirm the receipt of an anonymous letter of concern last week raising governance concerns around pay decisions. Contrary to the concerns expressed, the Board is satisfied that all decisions taken in relation to pay and conditions for all staff within the Trust are made on an objective basis, taking into account the performance of individual staff and reflecting their accountability levels.
“The Trust has robust procedures in place, which are strictly adhered to, in relation to the appointment of parties who are connected to Directors.
“The recruitment process followed for all related party appointments is stringent and objective.
“The Trust’s CEO played no part in the appointment decisions raised by the complainant, which were taken by the Board of Directors.
“The Trust always has, and always will, diligently follow reporting requirements to ensure transparency exists in all pay decisions for executive directors.
“All pay decisions taken by the Board are subject to regular external audit scrutiny, as well as additional scrutiny from Ofsted and the Department for Education. The board takes its responsibilities as steward of the public purse most seriously.
“The comments and comparisons made in this case are wildly inaccurate, since they compare the salary of a CEO and executive principal of a multi-academy trust with the salary of a secondary school headteacher of a stand-alone academy, taking no account of the increased level of accountability held by a CEO and Executive Principal.”