The study of the state of the labour market for senior staff in English and Welsh schools reveals that the proportion of vacant head and deputy head posts rose last year to levels not seen since 1997. That year, major changes in the rules on early retirement prompted an exodus of heads.
Recruitment analyst John Howson, who conducted the survey for the National Association of Head Teachers, warned that his findings were among the worst he had discovered.
And things are not improving. Since completing his survey, the visiting professor at Oxford Brookes University has analysed a further 26 adverts for headships in London schools.
More than half - 14 - have failed to fill the post and will now have to re-advertise in the new year, he told The TES. David Hart, general secretary of the NAHT, said: "This is the most serious situation we have faced for many years.
"Nothing less than a significant across-the-board pay increase will arrest a decline which has serious implications for the Government's drive to raise standards in schools."
However, the Government has said that the situation looks set to improve. Applications to headteacher training have trebled this year, Prime Minister Tony Blair announced yesterday.
Launching the Government's National College for School Leadership, Mr Blair yesterday was set to trumpet an increase in applications for the National Professional Qualification for Headship from 1,000 to 3,000.
The rise comes after the course was redesigned, cutting its length from three years to one, reducing the time teachers spend on residential weekends, and providing a sharper focus to school-based assessments.
Professor Howson's figures show a boost in the number of potential applicants is sorely needed. His findings are based on an analysis of posts advertised in England and Wales and questionnaires sent to schools by the NAHT. He said: "The most
disappointing finding is that after two years of decline in the number of schools seeking to make a senior staff appoitment there has been an increase in the past year."
In May, some 273 posts were advertised compared with only 153 posts in 1998 and 140 in 1999. The total for June, usually a quiet month, was even more dramatic with 313 posts advertised.
Church schools, special schools and those in London faced the greatest problem attracting new senior staff to fill vacancies.
Women now account for 70 per cent of senior appointments in primary and special schools but are less likely to be appointed to senior positions in secondary schools.
Sixteen per cent of secondaries that advertised failed to make an appointment at their first attempt.
This year women made up 40 per cent of new secondary heads, up from 32 per cent last year. "There is some hope that the glass ceiling in secondary schools may finally be being cracked," said Professor Howson.
SCHOOL'S FEEDBACK ON HEADSHIP VACANCY IN THE SOUTH-EAST
The governors short-listed three applicants. One declined our offer of interview because he had another interview the same day, another failed to confirm he would attend. With a short-list of one, the governors decided to readvertise."
VACANCY FACTFILE 1999-2000
In primary schools, more heads under 60 have retired since September 1999 and the number of posts advertised due to retirement has risen from 40 to 46 per cent
Most primary heads appointed are in their forties. Some 8 per cent are under the age of 35.
In secondaries, 56 per cent of vacancies advertised arose from a retirement - 30 per cent of those who retired were under 60
Just under a quarter of heads left to move to another headship, slightly more than the 20 per cent recorded last year
* One in five primary headships had to be re-advertised
* Schools in London faced the most difficulty in filling posts
* Roman Catholic schools encountered significant difficulties
* 75 per cent of primary schools received fewer than 10 applicants per headship
* 42 per cent of primary schools received five or fewer applications
* Special schools attracted seven applications on average
* Women now account for 70 per cent of senior staff appointments in
primary and special schools