Schools could be left without leaders as "worrying trends" reveal hundreds struggle to recruit headteachers, allegedly due to pay cuts and rising workloads.
A report commissioned by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) revealed the possibility of "escalating recruitment problems" in the face of the recent wave of academies and free schools. Despite hundreds of headteachers receiving six-figure salaries, general secretary of the union Russell Hobby said the report shows "worrying trends in the school labour market at the very top level".
"We want people to become heads and experience the unparalleled power to make a difference to young lives," he said. "Against this are the prospect of a 20 per cent real terms pay cut over the next four years despite rising targets, longer hours, increasing threats of violence and lower job security.
"We run the risk of running out of heads, with dramatic damage to the trend of school improvement."
The figures, released by Education Data Surveys, show more than a third of primary heads' positions were advertised more than once after failing to find an applicant the first time round. The report also found there was a "concerning" decline in deputy head vacancies, suggesting staff are preferring to stay second-in-command rather than progress to the top of the school.
"As existing deputies come closer to retiring, there is a real danger schools will face even greater difficulty in recruiting headteachers in years to come if there is not an available and ample supply of deputy headteachers from which to draw candidates," the report stated.
Previous statistics released by the Times Education Supplement showed another "recruitment crisis" in education, with the number of student applicants to the secondary sector had fallen by 40%.
"Headship is a wonderful job, with challenges and satisfaction in equal measure", Hobby added.
“Outstanding school leaders can not only turn around failing schools but add to the collective spirit of optimism and growth in entire communities.
"If we are to lift ourselves out of the economic doldrums and produce a workforce fit for the challenges ahead, the vital role played by gifted school leaders has got to be recognised and encouraged."