When two new primary schools in Waltham Forest, north-east London, recently advertised for headteachers at salaries of up to pound;72,444 they set a benchmark that schools in other recruitment trouble spots will find hard to ignore.
The timing of the advertisements in the run-up to the main recruitment season means they will almost certainly start a trend, says recruitment expert John Howson, a visiting education professor at Oxford Brookes University.
"They may well be sending a signal which causes people to revise what they will be offering in January, and that could be very inflationary," said Professor Howson, whose company, Education Data Services, conducts an annual survey of school leaders' jobs for the two main heads' associations.
The latest survey, published last month, showed that primaries were finding it much harder to recruit heads than secondaries. More than half the vacancies for primary headships attracted five or fewer applications, compared to an average of 16 in secondaries. In both sectors London schools suffered the most.
"It's a straightforward question of supply and demand that's driven these salaries up," said John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association. He predicted that one effect of primary heads breaking through the pound;70,000 barrier would be to push more secondary heads' salaries into the pound;80-90,000 bracket.
But EduAction - the private company that runs school services in Waltham Forest - has denied the pay for the new posts will fuel inflation in pay elsewhere.
In a written statement, Eleanor Schooling, the company's head of school development and review services, said: "Both these schools will be large schools, as a result of amalgamations, and each will have its own particular challenges. This is reflected in the salaries. However, we do not anticipate that there will be any inflationary effect from the salaries offered on these posts."
One of the new schools will be formed from the merger of Edward Redhead infant and junior schools, and the other from Woodside junior and infant schools and nursery. Both will open in September with around 630 pupils each.
Pay ranges on the leadership spine are determined by a school's size. However, governing bodies can offer more where exceptional circumstances make it difficult to recruit or retain a headteacher.
Heads at the two new schools have been put in a higher salary band than the size of their school would suggest: they will be in group 8, which pays between pound;62,817 and pound;72,444, including outer London weighting. This is more than the heads of some of Waltham Forest's smaller secondary schools.
Although Edward Redhead infant school has been in special measures for two years, it is not clear what makes the new schools' circumstances so exceptional.
Ron Haycock, National Union of Teachers' divisional secretary in Waltham Forest, says those Walthamstow schools that are merging, are probably less challenging than some in the more deprived south of the borough.
He also said that the salaries offered to the heads of the amalgamated schools would "infuriate" classroom teachers campaigning for a higher London allowance.
Deputy and assistant heads in Waltham Forest and beyond may not be too happy about these salaries either. Magnus Gorham, assistant secretary for the National Association for Head Teachers, pointed out that while the earnings of both heads and senior classroom teachers are gradually improving, deputy heads' pay is often stagnant.
"They have the opportunity to get performance pay rises each year but we know that a lot of them don't get those increases," he said.
So, if Waltham Forest marks the start of a trend, the gap between the pay of heads and those who deputise for them will become wider still.
SALARIES OFF THE SCALE
In 1998 Islington Green school in north London was the first to advertise for a head at a salary of up to pound;70,000 - 25 per cent above the top of the scale at the time. Two years later Michael Murphy was hired on pound;96,00 to turn round Crown Woods school in Greenwich, south-east London. But even that was eclipsed by the pound;120,000 package that Alastair Falk will get to run the new West London Academy in Ealing.
Kate Bailey was probably the first primary head to earn pound;60,000 when she started at John Keble C of E school in Brent last year. But she resigned last term, and the school has not managed to find a replacement so far. It will shortly be re-advertising the job, but has no plans to offer an even higher salary.