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Swale Academy Trust defends providing BMW cars to its senior leaders

By Paul Francis

An academy trust which runs several schools in Kent has defended providing senior school leaders with BMWs.

The Swale Academies Trust says that it has made the cars available for four senior staff, including its chief executive Jon Whitcombe, who saw his earnings rise to between £170,000 and £175,000.

It said Mr Whitcombe used a BMW because he frequently had to travel long distances between the trust’s schools and that the car made his “frequent long journeys safe and comfortable.”

Jon Whitcombe
Jon Whitcombe

The trust is one of the largest in the region, running a number of primary and secondary schools in Kent.

They include Westlands Primary School, Meopham School in Gravesend, The North School in Ashford, Regis Manor School in Sittingbourne and Sittingbourne Community College and South Borough Primary School in Maidstone.

The trust's chair of directors Paul Goodson said: “The CEO of the Trust is ultimately responsible for the education of over 9,000 children in 17 schools in the South East. Since coming under the wing of the Trust, these schools have made significant progress. We believe that the CEO’s salary and terms and conditions are commensurate with the size of the role and the level of responsibility”

The issue of the pay and perks of those in charge of large academy chains has come under renewed scrutiny after it emerged that 100 earned more than the Prime Minister and some enjoyed lucrative packages.

Of other academy chains operating in Kent, the senior executives of five of the largest are on six-figure salaries that are either above or at the same level of the Prime Minister.

The principal of Leigh Academies Trust Simon Beamish earned between £165,000 and £170,000 in 2016, based on the company’s last set of accounts.

Meopham School is run by the Swale Academies Trust
Meopham School is run by the Swale Academies Trust

Oasis Community Learning, which also operates schools in Kent, lists the highest earner’s pay at between £170,000 and £180,000 but does not identify the individual.

A further eight senior staff were paid between £110,000 and £120,000 but were not identified in the trust’s accounts.

The Williamson Trust, which runs five Medway schools, lists a salary of between £150,000 and £155,000 for its former executive principal Dr Gary Holden on its latest accounts. He moved to a job with Ofsted last year.

The Kent Catholic Schools Partnership, which runs four secondary schools and 17 primary schools paid its chief executive Clive Webster £145,000 -150,000 in 2016, according to its latest available accounts.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, former chief of Ofsted, said there should be a cap on the earnings of academy bosses.

Regis Manor Primary School in Middletune Avenue
Regis Manor Primary School in Middletune Avenue

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Academy trusts and governing bodies are responsible for setting executive pay levels and are able to use that autonomy to recruit and reward exceptional leaders.

"We expect them to use that freedom in a responsible manner and have updated our guidance for trusts to make that clear.

"Executive pay must reflect performance, the individual’s ability to offer all pupils an excellent education and there must be clear evidence to demonstrate this.”

The Swale Academies Trust has been asked for a comment.

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