Taxpayers fund large wages and lavish perks of academy school chiefs

The leaders of academy schools are spending taxpayers’ money on luxury hotels, top-end restaurants, first-class travel, private health care and executive cars, a joint investigation by Channel 4’s Dispatches and the Observer can reveal.

Expense claims released under the Freedom of Information Act lay bare for the first time what critics claim is an extraordinary extravagance by some academy chain chief executives and principals, at a time when schools are struggling financially.

The taxpayer is paying Ian Cleland, the £180,000-a-year chief executive at Academy Transformation Trust, to lease and have joint insurance with his wife on an XJ Premium Luxury V6 Jaguar car, it can be disclosed. Included in nearly £3,000 worth of receipts is payment for servicing the car and the purchase of new tyres.

Cleland has also spent £3,000 of taxpayers’ money on first-class rail travel, while dining expenses racked up on his taxpayer-funded credit card include a meal with other staff at Marco Pierre White totalling £471, and the Bank restaurant in Birmingham, at a cost £703.45.


Cleland announced in March that the Trust was looking to save £500,000 from its 21 schools in the Midlands and east of England and had asked staff to reapply for their jobs. “The education sector is facing a number of significant financial challenges across the country with all schools, academies and multi-academy trusts being affected,” he said at the time. “As a result, it is essential that we review our costs and consider where savings can be made, without impacting on the quality of education.”

Elsewhere in the country, thousands of pounds have been spent at top hotels and even rooms in luxury golf clubs by senior executives working for academy trusts. The public has also regularly funded first-class travel and poured money into taxi firms.


The largest 40 academy trusts have spent more than £1m of public money on executive expenses since 2012.

The Observer can reveal that Maxine Evans, soon to be chief executive of the NET Academies Trust, who currently earns £46,000 a year, spent more than £9,000 on executive taxis to travel between schools in 2015/16, where the driver was at times required to wait for the duration of the visit.

The Paradigm Trust pays for its CEO, Amanda Phillips, to have broadband at her holiday home in France, even though she earns £195,354 a year.

Meanwhile, as former education secretary Michael Gove’s vision of a more market-led school system has materialised, in which multi-academy trusts have taken the place of local authorities, salary levels have soared within the management tier, it can be revealed. More than half of the largest 50 chains pay their chief executives more than the prime minister (£143,000). Sir Daniel Moynihan, the chief executive of the high-performing Harris Federation, earns £395,000 a year.

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