In a new report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said it was concerned that the department has only recently started to collect information on pay in areas such as academies, adding it is sceptical about whether the Government is taking the matter seriously.
The committee asked Chancellor George Osborne’s department what it is doing to control salaries in education, especially around academies - which are semi-independent state schools free from local council control - and “super-heads”, who are often leading headteachers running more than one school, and who was accountable for how much they are paid.
“The Treasury told us that they take a close interest if it thinks that there are sector anomalies and that the governing body of the academy is accountable for pay,” the report says.
“The Treasury noted that there was now more discretion on pay in this sector and that it was trying to collect data to assess the degree to which individual academies were taking account of the freedoms granted to them.”
If pay discrepancies are found, these are taken up with the Department for Education, the report adds.
The committee concluded that the Treasury had failed to show that it is ensuring that all parts of the public sector stick to the Government’s views on pay restraint.
It added: “The Treasury has also been slow in identifying and addressing seemingly excessive pay awards for some roles in the education sector, such as university vice-chancellors and ‘super-heads’ and has only recently started to collate information in areas such as the academy sector.
“Given this track record, we are sceptical as to whether government are taking this matter seriously and are concerned that messages around the need for pay restraint for the public sector are undermined by remuneration packages offered to more senior public servants.”
The report, examining the whole of government accounts (WGA), also says that MPs challenged the Treasury over “the absence of any control and transparency arrangements in respect to senior university remuneration, for example at the vice-chancellor level”.
While universities are not part of the public sector, they receive significant amounts of public funding, it adds.
The Treasury told the committee that where bodies are outside of the public sector it is difficult to apply controls and it was focusing first on the areas where it had direct influence.
PAC chair Margaret Hodge said: “The Treasury sets the framework for public sector pay but has been slow to exert its direct control over decisions taken by the wider public sector when setting remuneration packages.
“The Treasury has also been slow in identifying and addressing seemingly excessive pay awards for some roles in the education sector, such as university vice-chancellors and ‘super-heads’, and has only recently started to collate information in areas such as the academy sector.”
It is not the first time that concerns have been raised about school leaders and university chiefs’ pay.
In October, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan told the Commons education select committee that those who are responsible for spending public education funding “need to think very carefully about the salaries that are being approved and think about the accountability for those salaries”.
Latest figures show that almost 1,000 headteachers, deputies and assistant heads working in England’s state schools are earning £100,000 or more.
And separate research has shown that in 2012/13 university vice-chancellors took home pay, benefits and pensions packages worth more than £250,000 on average.
In 2013, the Yorkshire Post reported that four of the biggest academy chains operating in Yorkshire – Academies Enterprise Trust (AET), E-ACT, School Partnership Trust Academies (SPTA) and Outwood Grange Academies Trust – had all paid their most senior figures salaries greater than the £142,500 earned by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Ministers have previously criticised spiralling pay, saying that they had serious concerns about the “substantial upward drift” of salaries, and university leaders should be exercising “much greater restraint”.
A government spokesman said: “Overall, pay restraint has helped to protect jobs in the public sector and support the quality of public services.
“Pay restraint is estimated to have saved £12 billion since 2010-11, equivalent to the cost of around 65,000 teachers or 71,000 nurses over the same period.”