In a letter sent to free school trusts last week, the Department for Education said it would underwrite the salary of principal designates of free schools to give them the “security they need to resign from their current posts”, Schools Week reports.

Mela Watts, the DfE’s free schools group director, said the move was critical to securing high-quality leaders for the success of free schools, who are sometimes put off from taking a position in case a free school fails to go ahead as planned – and they lose their job.
The underwritten salary also includes additional costs such as employer pension contributions and national insurance.
Schools Week learned that underwriting the salaries of principal designates is already in place, but the letter from Watts sets out a formal criteria – rather than being decided on an individual basis by officials. The letter also reveals the DfE would consider paying the salary directly to principals.

But it adds that if the free school is deferred or cancelled, any principal designate “may be required to take on additional work for the department [of education]” while their salary is being underwritten.

The letter does not state what kind of work would be required, but Schools Week understands it could involve principals being asked to assist in other free school projects.

Watts also states the department may consider extending the scheme to “essential” teaching staff in “exceptional circumstances”, and that the rule also applies to university technical colleges and studio schools.
There are some caveats to the funding. The department will only pay the salary for up to two academic terms, and a pay cap will be agreed on a “case-by-case basis”.

The free school must also have an opening date formally agreed in writing, and state in the contract should the principal become “underemployed” they would take on other work for the department.

If the free school does not go ahead, the principal designate is required to take “all reasonable steps” to seek alternative employment. If they do, the department will deduct the value of that remuneration from their payments to the principal.

Unfair cash boost for free schools

The announcement is likely to further rile critics who will claim it is another unfair cash boost for free schools.

Schools Week revealed earlier this month how the government had overfunded free schools, but allowed some to defer paying the money back – with no such deal offered to other school types.