A row has erupted over a stand-in headteacher paid £700 a day for the past two months to work at a Walsall secondary school.

Mike Bee has received an estimated £30,000, equivalent to a £180,000 annual salary, to cover for ill headteacher Hilary Short at Elmwood School.

Serco, the private firm responsible for the running of the school for boys with special educational needs, and which helped identify Mr Bee for the job, defended his wage.

Praising his work in keeping the school stable, Serco said Mr Bee was appointed at short notice and that his pay was in line with market rates. But campaigners called the pay packet "disgraceful", saying half the figure would still be high.

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said: "I'm absolutely disgusted, and I'm sure most parents and taxpayers would be too. I'm all in favour of having teachers who deal with children with special behavioural problems, but the figures I've heard of that supply teachers get are about £250 to £400 a day - and even that's on the high end.

"A daily rate of £700 is disgraceful. This sort of money should be going towards hiring more teachers and buying books. People are taking advantage of the state education system with taxpayers' money."

Tony Stainer, managing director of Walsall Children's Services at Serco, said the specialist nature of Elmwood School, for boys aged 11 to 16 who have difficulty maintaining places in mainstream comprehensive schools, required "an experienced temporary headteacher, at very short notice, owing to the sudden hospitalisation of the current headteacher".

Mr Stainer added: "We are pleased to say that the headteacher will be returning after the Christmas break and would like to thank Mr Bee for his working during this time.

"Mr Bee is paid at the current market rate for a temporary, self-employed consultant operating across this specialist area of work. We are delighted that the school has continued to function effectively during this period following its recent move into new accommodation."

Ms Short will return in the new year.