Nick Seaton of the Campaign for Real Education says merger mania among schools means it's not just MPs showing greedy excess at the taxpayers expense.
It's not just MPs who have had their noses in the taxpayers' money-trough. Many believe, one way or another, it's headteachers, local authorities (LAs) and private companies too.
Three years ago, the heads of Boston Grammar School (BGS) and Boston High School (BHS) in Lincolnshire conspired to join their two schools to form a 'hard federation' – turn two schools into one, rebuilt on a single site. This was pre-arranged by the heads, the LA and CfBT, a private service provider which is paid £2m a year to manage local schools, without informing governors or parents.
When these plans were announced, John Neal, the head of BGS told parents he would remain as head. Within weeks he was gone with a reputed £200,000 pay-off. Helen McEvoy, the head of BHS, was appointed head of the combined schools. With responsibility for double the number of pupils, her salary will have increased very nicely, thank you. The losers are potential pupils and their taxpaying parents, not least because the number of entrants into the two grammar schools was cut from 264 each year to fewer than 180.
In 2008, it was reported that in the first 3 months of the year, 'superhead' Dr Chris Gerry had travelled to Athens, Seattle and Shanghai. He heads the Cornwallis and New Line Learning Academies in Maidstone, Kent, created by federating three schools. On 29 February 2008, the TES reported that he had sent 16 teachers to Yale University to learn how to become 'emotional intelligence coaches' at a cost of 'a few thousand pounds' out of the academies' £15m annual budget.
In the meantime, the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust – annual budget around £50m, £35m of which is from the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) – has been organising trips for heads to exotic foreign locations. These, we understand, are partly to draw heads into the government's 'progressive' fold and partly to recruit 'superheads' for the academy programme. It doesn't matter how trendy the heads are – experiments using children as guinea pigs are acclaimed as 'innovation'.
There are anecdotal reports of shopping trips in New York, rain forest expeditions and the occasional visit to Downing Street. It has not been possible to verify or reject such stories because heads won't speak out and the DCSF denies all knowledge. Because it is a charity, the SSAT neatly avoids any requirement to supply details under the Freedom of Information Act.
Some LAs, we are told, allow heads a £10,000 a year budget to spend on their 'personal development'. Again unconfirmed.
But some truth is creeping out.
In April, Hank Roberts, a teacher at Copland Community College in Brent, revealed that during the last two years, his head, Sir Alan Davies, had received bonuses of £130,000. Sir Alan has now been suspended, but how could this happen in the first place?
On 10 April, the TES reported that some heads are already earning £150,000 a year with an extra 20% on offer, if they manage two or more federated schools. Bonuses and other benefits could bring many into the £200,000 a year bracket. But are heads really worth 4 or 5 times as much as a classroom teacher? Or are they being (over) paid for something else?
On 2 May, The Daily Telegraph reported a £40,000 junket for heads at taxpayers' expense. At least 20 of them would stay in a 5-star beach-front hotel in Mauritius, complete with spas and beauty salons. The cost to their schools was £1,100 per head, plus around £700 each for travel expenses. This, too, was organised by the SSAT.
Meanwhile, taxpayers' money earmarked for the £45bn Building Schools for the Future programme is used to pressure councillors, LAs, and private providers to promote the 'progressive', anti-choice agenda. The implications are clear: get supposedly apolitical heads and other respected individuals on board and they can influence others – and events. Little consideration is given to the needs of pupils, disempowered parents, or the taxpaying public. And why is it that any head or teacher who opposes (or exposes) such arrangements may lose his or her job?
Integrity in public life? Perhaps a little remains. But it is getting hard to find.