Record numbers of teachers are quitting the profession, fuelling fears of a crippling shortage of school leaders.
But while increasing numbers of experienced teachers are taking early retirement, new teachers starting this term are more confident than ever about their abilities to handle life in the classroom.
The mixed picture of the profession emerges from a series of studies published this week.
Figures from the Department for Education and Skills show that 14,000 teachers retired last year - the highest number since New Labour came to power.
A further report, published today by Britain's two main headteachers'
associations, show that the numbers applying to become heads of primary schools has reached a new low.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There is going to be a vacuum of senior teachers. We already know there are hundreds of schools without a headteacher and it is complacent to pretend there isn't a problem."
DfES figures, released following a Parliamentary question by David Laws, the Lib Dem MP, show that numbers of teachers taking voluntary early retirement at 60 are at a recent high.
The figures also show 1,540 retired on health grounds. Half cited mental disorders.
John Illingworth, a primary head and former president of the National Union of Teachers, retired on medical grounds last month after being diagnosed with depression and severe anxiety.
"There are thousands and thousands of teachers struggling to cope with the workload," he said. "They can get temporary relief through prescription drugs but, sadly, the only real solution for many is to leave the profession."
The figures lend weight to a survey, published by England's General Teaching Council, which indicated that 37 per cent of teachers felt likely to quit in the next five years and that only 4 per cent imagined becoming heads.
But the Training and Development Agency for Schools said its poll of 14,000 newly-qualified teachers offers hope. It shows that new teachers are more positive than in previous years about their training, including their instruction on handling poor behaviour.
There was also some good news for secondary schools, as applications for their headships increased substantially last year.
The GTC figures suggest that eight out of 10 classroom teachers are receiving their full allocation of non-teaching time to plan and prepare their lessons.
The DfES denied there was a looming headteacher shortage, and said there were more teachers than any time since 1980.
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