Rocketing headteacher salaries - including the pound;231,000 a year revealed this week for one primary school leader - are justified by the mammoth pay packets of singers and footballing megastars, the leader of heads' union the NAHT has said.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the NAHT, said there was no reason heads should not be paid as much as leading musicians and sportsmen, given that educating children was such a vital job.
"I have to say, `Why not?'" he told The TES when asked if Mark Elms' annual pay packet was justified, pointing out that many football stars with lucrative sponsorship deals could earn that much in seven days. Chelsea and England footballer Frank Lampard is reportedly paid pound;140,000 a week.
"Society needs to look at its values," Mr Brookes added. "Do we value a pop culture more than children having life chances? It is not to denigrate the talent of people who bring music and sport to us, but we need to be sure about what we value."
Although his salary pales in comparison to the likes of Frank Lampard, Mr Elms' life took a celebrity turn this week. Looking tanned and fit, the 57-year-old arrived at Tidemill Primary School in Lewisham, south London, to find a gaggle of newspaper photographers keen for a snatched shot of the "quarter-million-pound headmaster".
Many commentators expressed disbelief that Mr Elms earned pound;100,000 on top of his basic pound;83,000 salary for his involvement in the City Challenge programme, an initiative to boost achievement in deprived areas.
But Mr Brookes said it was a head's "moral duty" to share their expertise outside of their own school.
However, one secondary school heads' leader said that if they do "extra" work, for example secondments to work as School Improvement Partners or inspectors, the school should receive the full costs to make up for their absence.
Brian Lightman, general secretary elect of the Association of School and College Leaders, said heads should only be able to pocket any extra money themselves if extra-curricular work is done at weekends or in their own time.
"The school should be reimbursed the full costs of releasing the head, and if they've done additional work it's reasonable for the governors to agree a policy to recognise that extra work," he said.
But Mr Lightman added that there were "grey areas" on how heads should be paid for extra activities, and governing bodies needed to have "a very clear policy" on any arrangements made with them.
Although most London heads remained tight-lipped in the row over "excessive" headteacher pay packets, one expressed concern that there was a lack of guidance for governors establishing what additional payments they could make.
Gary Phillips, head of the 620-pupil Lilian Bayliss comprehensive in Kennington, south London, who earns pound;89,000 year, said: "Making the guidance clear would remove all doubt. If you are on a high salary it holds the school up to greater scrutiny and I don't think there's anything wrong with that."
NIGHTMARE ON ELMS' STREET?
The astonishment over Mark Elms' salary, which included back pay from previous years, caused his school's local authority to leap to his defence. Lewisham Council was swift to point out his excellent track- record at Tidemill, which he took on in 2001 when it was in special measures.
In 2008, the school was rated "outstanding" by Ofsted and the head was asked to contribute to the Government's City Challenge programme, helping to turn around other struggling primary schools.
For his efforts, last year Mr Elms received a basic salary of nearly pound;83,000, an appointment and retention payment of pound;26,000, pound;10,000 for out- of-hours work and nearly pound;10,000 in arrears from the previous year.
He received extra payments totalling more than pound;100,000 for work on the City Challenge programme from 2008 to 2010, while his employer's pension contributions were nearly pound;17,000.
- Original headline: Footballers, pop stars . why not mega salaries for heads, challenges Brookes