Headteachers are threatening to scupper any workload agreement for teachers unless the Government acknowledges the growing weight of their management burden.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "We have told the department that unless guaranteed management time for members of the leadership group is covered there will be no deal as far as we are concerned."
The Government aims to relieve teachers of 25 tasks such as photocopying, collecting money and collating registration information. Handing such work to support staff is generally regarded as a welcome move. But it might create additional problems for school managers.
"The proposals could work for teachers, but add to the workload of people in the leadership group," David Hart warned. "If we are going to recruit 55,000 more support staff that's bound to add to managers'
In April, the Department for Education and Skills set up Pathfinder projects to pilot different approaches to workload reduction in 32 schools. But none of the projects has been looking specifically at headteacher workload.
A working party of teachers' union and employers' representatives has been considering workload issues since the spring. The Government's consultations on the proposals that former education secretary Estelle Morris put forward earlier this year end this month.
"One of the things that really affects our workload is accountability," says Secondary Heads Association president Kate Griffin, head of Greenford high school in Ealing. "There are too many different layers - the governing body, the local education authority, the new learning and skills councils. They all need reports, they all demand a share of our time."
In Sandwell, workload issues raise a weary smile from Hilary Bills, head of Holyhead primary, which is in one of the toughest areas of the West Midlands. "The job is undoable," she says. "I could not possibly do everything there is to be done. I manage by prioritising."
Hilary Bills will welcome the new support staff for her school - if and when they appear - but she points out that each additional person has to be interviewed, checked through the Criminal Records Bureau, trained and monitored. "Just taking these people on will create more work for me," she said.
Hilary Bills shares Kate Griffin's concerns about the burdens of accountability. Her radical solution would be to reduce drastically the role of the governing body.
"All it does is generate meetings, reports and work," she said. "My governors are wonderful. I value their support, but the benefit they bring to the school is outweighed by the work the process generates. I'd also drop performance management into the nearest bin. It's a bureaucratic nightmare."
Hilary Bills argues that any workload solution for heads needs to look beyond the school. "Outside agencies create a lot of work. About a third of our children are on the special needs register and a number of children are in care. There's a constant demand for paperwork from social services. Reports, personal education plans - this is work for their department, but I have to write them."
Hilary's wish-list is headed by a properly-trained bursar. At present, the role is filled by her secretary. "But I need both," she said. "I need basic admin and someone to take responsibility for some of the bureaucracy."
In last year's Pricewaterhouse-Coopers workload study, teachers were not seen as overburdened in terms of the annual hours worked. The main problems were the intensive nature of the term-time experience and the way work was managed. But PWC did confirm that heads worked longer hours - even on an annual basis - than their counterparts in industry and commerce.
In secondary schools, heads were working more than 60 hours a week. In primaries, the figure was 59. For managers in all occupations the average was just over 46 hours.
Recent research into the dearth of candidates for leadership posts (see below) highlights the dangers of failing to address headteacher workload.
"Too many heads are still retiring before reaching 60," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association. "Workload must play a significant part in their decision to leave. This is a terrible waste of talent that can be ill-afforded by the education system."
In Sandwell, Hilary Bills agrees. "People take a look at the head's office, and they ask themselves do they really want to do that," she said.