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Why MAT CEO Salaries Need To Be Brought Under Control

April 24, 2018, 14:18 GMT+1
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  • Martin Matthews questions whether the sky-high salaries commanded by some multi academy trust chief executives can really be justified…
Why MAT CEO Salaries Need To Be Brought Under Control

Every spring we see lurid headlines about education’s highest paid people – MAT CEOs. The highest earning federation head is currently paid around £400,000 to lead nine schools, while the £550,000 salary earned by the highest paid MAT CEO covers 44 schools.

The argument goes that these stratospheric salaries occupy a different reality to that lived by the vast majority education workers. Given the pay constraints most are under, how can they be allowed? Personally, I’ve no issue with high wages for successful, skilled and high-pressure roles – but we do need to ask whether their level of reward matches the task at hand.

The structure of most MATs sees school principals reporting to a MAT CEO. The CEO takes charge of the trust’s overall strategy and has responsibility for the whole organisation – a very different skill-set to that needed by school leaders.

That said, compare MAT CEO salaries to the £189,000 earned by a chief of general staff in the Armed Forces, who has life and death responsibility for 100,000 soldiers.

What if we factor in accountability? MAT CEOs have a ‘high value, high stakes’ role, in that they may lose their job if the overall organisation starts to fail. Granted, we’ve recently seen Wakefield City Academy Trust implode – but when you consider that there are well over a thousand MATs, there’s a significantly smaller degree of personal risk involved compared with, say, leading one of the 20 teams in the Premier League. Is the role of Prime Minister (£142,500 p/a) less delicately poised that the average MAT CEO? Probably not.

Every MAT board decides on their CEO’s remuneration. They’ll examine the performance management criteria, assess whether the CEO has met their targets and then discuss pay. The problem we have is that there’s no national formula for calculating CEO pay, or a pay scale for MAT CEOs. The DfE opted to leave CEO pay to market forces, but the overall number of MATs hasn’t developed at the pace originally anticipated and the market for CEO career progression remains relatively small.

MATs often worry about finding a replacement for a successful CEO – and with no upper pay limits in place, their existing CEO will usually have the skills to successfully negotiate themselves repeated pay rises. MAT boards typically don’t benchmark their CEO’s salary against similarly sized trusts, though this is easier than you’d think, since all high value MAT salaries are published by Companies House.

Where does this leave us? With a few high value individuals who are skilled at their role and at negotiating themselves ever-higher salaries. Boards evidently need more guidance and support in this area, which is simple to arrange – but the wider issue won’t be as easy to resolve.

Martin Matthews is a chair of governors and national leader of governance; visit or follow @mm684