Education correspondent GENE BRODIE on an eye-watering salary hike for the man in overall charge of some of Croydon’s biggest schools
The leader of a church-linked multi-academy chain which operates five large schools in Croydon has just been awarded a £25,000 pay rise.
John Murphy is the chief executive of Oasis Community Learning, a rapidly growing chain which has derived considerable benefits from what has been, effectively, the outsourcing of state education over the past two decades.
Croydon Council, as a local education authority, no longer operates any secondary schools in the borough. Instead, they are all operated by academy trusts or as free schools, with the buildings built and paid for by the tax-payer and their budgets funded from the Department for Education.
The Oasis chain, which has its head offices next to a church in Waterloo (but which maintains that it does not have a “religious ethos”), is the country’s third largest, running 49 state schools in England and Wales, with five of them in Croydon.
According to a report by the Education Uncovered website, based on the academy chain’s annual accounts, Murphy’s remuneration has gone up from £170,000-£180,000 in 2015-2016 to £205,000 in 2016-2017.
“This comes despite Oasis becoming the latest trust to warn that… its academies are experiencing a ‘very challenging financial climate’ amid concerns about ‘unfunded pay settlements’,” Education Uncovered reports.
“The chain said Oasis’s schools had improved rapidly under Murphy’s tenure, though Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said raising chief executives’ salaries should not be a priority.”
Murphy could have just benefited from a pay rise of as much as 20 per cent, at a period when inflation is running at less than 4 per cent, and earnings for many of the parents who send their children to his Oasis schools have stagnated. Median average pay for all classroom teachers rose only £500 to £35,100, or 1.4 per cent, between 2015 and 2016 according to the teachers’ union.
Oasis was set up by the Baptist minister Steve Chalke in 2004 and is part of the Christian organisation of the same name. Chalke was brought up in Croydon, and the Oasis chain has strong links to the borough.
The chain’s head of corporate public relations is Gareth Streeter, a Conservative Party activist who is running for election to Croydon Council in May. Streeter has also been a governor at one of Oasis’s schools in Croydon, Shirley Park.
A spokeperson for the academy chain told Education Uncovered this week: “Ultimately the decision on senior pay levels is made by a committee of OCL’s Board. However, to give you a little context – since John took over as our CEO, the service provided by our academies has swiftly improved.”
In 2014, only 40 per cent of Oasis schools were rated good or better by Ofsted. By 2017, this had climbed to 78 per cent.
In Croydon, only the Coulsdon Oasis academy manages to make it into the top 10 of the borough’s secondaries – at No10 – based on Ofsted’s 2017 “Attainment 8” measure of pupils’ improvement through the school to GCSEs (some Oasis secondaries have not yet got a GCSE age group cadre).
Results elsewhere, according to official figures, are mixed for Oasis’s schools in Croydon: at Shirley Park, just 25 per cent of pupils managed to achieve Grade 5 or better in English and Maths.
Nonetheless, the Oasis spokesperson told Education Uncovered that Murphy’s pay rise reflected the academy chain’s growth, and that his package is “very much in line with his counterparts at other large MATs”.
In the context of the collapse of outsourcer Carillion this week, this pay rise for a chief executive needs to be considered alongside on-going cuts being made to teaching budgets in state schools and the remarks which education outsourcers, such as Oasis, have been making about their “very challenging” funding situation.
In the same set of annual accounts which revealed Murphy’s generous pay hike, they say: “We remain concerned about continuing pressures on unfunded pay settlements and pension cost increases in the sector.
“The financial climate is very challenging and the company is addressing this through detailed monitoring of academy budgets and early planning for future periods so that costs are kept within reduced future income streams.
“To this end a detailed budget planning process for 2018-2019 will be concluded by the end of January 2018 with a view to ensuring a balanced budget in that period.”
So that could mean no additional teaching staff for a bit for your child’s school, and certainly no pay rises for teachers.
But it’s trebles all-round at Oasis’s Waterloo head offices.
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