In some cases, academy trusts are failing to prove that hefty pay packages are appropriate, according to the Public Accounts Committee.
In a new report it says the schools chains are “too often falling short of the highest standards of governance, accountability and financial management and the Department for Education (DfE) is too slow to react”.
The committee argues that if pay is left unchallenged, there is a risk that high wages become accepted as the norm, which will pile more pressure on school budgets.
The report says: “Some academy trusts appear to be using public money to pay excessive salaries.”
The latest official annual report and accounts for academies in England shows that there were 102 instances in which trustees were paid salaries in excess of £150,000, it notes.
It goes on to say that last November, the Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) wrote to 29 single-academy trusts where a trustee was paid in excess of £150,000, requesting justification.
While all 29 have responded, in two thirds of cases ESFA is not yet satisfied with the response, the committee said.
“Unjustifiably high salaries use public money that could be better spent on improving children’s education and supporting front-line teaching staff, and do not represent value for money,” the report says.
The committee calls for the Government to do more to challenge academy trusts that are paying excessive salaries and take action if they cannot be justified.
The report also warns that there is a lack of transparency at multi-academy trusts, which are educating increasing numbers of children and handling large amounts of public money.
It follows a shock announcement last September that Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) would cease running 21 Yorkshire schools.
The academy trust was accused of “asset-stripping” its schools after it emerged that it had transferred money from some of academies to its central accounts. However, accountants examining the finances have found “no evidence of financial wrongdoing”.
Committee chair Meg Hillier said: “Academies and the trusts that run them must be judged against the standards expected of other schools funded by the taxpayer.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “All academy trusts operate under a strict system of financial accountability and have to publish their audited accounts.
“To ensure all pupils get the excellent education they deserve we continue to scrutinise the system on an annual basis and take action where necessary.”