Non-teachers with headship qualifications are not on a "level playing field" with those from teaching backgrounds when applying for posts because schools are extremely sceptical about their aptitude, an aspiring headteacher has claimed.
Julie White-Zamler, a former marketing expert turned assistant head, claims the growing recruitment crisis will not be solved unless the Government does more to promote the benefits of taking on heads without classroom experience.
Although Ms White-Zamler was accepted on to the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) last October, she has struggled to find headships to apply for because most insist on candidates being qualified teachers.
Of 14 jobs she has considered in the past two months, just two said qualified teacher status (QTS) was not essential. The NPQH is only open to people deemed "ready to take up a substantive post as a head within 12 months".
Ms White-Zamler, who marketed alcoholic drinks, wet-wipes and opthalmic lenses before becoming an assistant head at an independent school, funded the pound;3,800 NPQH course herself. But she says schools are failing to take her seriously.
She believes that the course, which involved her working in three state schools, has prepared her well for the role. But she says schools have little understanding of her skills.
She said: "It is frustrating. There are two local primaries which can't find a headteacher and they won't even interview me. The idea that they won't even look at a non-QTS is very sad as they would rather the school went without a head."
She said many schools might fear that non-teacher heads would "skew" the focus away from the core of teaching and learning.
"My background in marketing might make governors think I would be more interested in what colour the walls are painted or how the hedges are cut and the look of the school brochure, but that is not the case," she said.
Ms White-Zamler moved into education in May 2005, when she was appointed marketing manager for Cranford House, a private school in Oxfordshire.
As her role developed, she became heavily involved in school improvement and was made an assistant head in 2008.
"I did the NPQH because I wanted to move into the state sector. The teaching and learning bit is my area of weakness, but it doesn't mean you can't learn it.
"You don't need to be a teacher to know when a lesson is amazing.
"I've worked in a school for six years; I'm not someone who has come in off the street."
The need for headteachers to have QTS was lifted in 2003, following recommendations. In addition, an independent report by consultant PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2007 said lack of QTS should be "no barrier to leadership" (see box).
But the National College says that of 32,000 people who have taken the NPQH in the past decade, less than 1 per cent were not qualified teachers.
And despite a recruitment crisis in primaries and secondaries losing an increasing number of experienced heads to retirement, there are few examples of non-teachers being promoted to headship.
Peter Noble, the first state-school leader without school experience, left his job as chief executive of the Richard Rose Federation in Carlisle after one of its academies was placed in special measures.
Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said he still believed non-teacher heads were "not a good idea" although it was conceivable that a chief executive of a federation or chain who was performing a "paid governor" role could do the job without classroom experience.
"It's a question of credibility; you need someone to focus on teaching and learning in charge of the school," Mr Hobby said.
A Department for Education spokesman said: "We want heads to have a wide range of skills and experience so they can make a positive impact on raising standards."
`No barrier to leadership'
A 2007 government-commissioned report by PricewaterhouseCoopers first promoted the idea of non-teacher heads. It said the changing nature of school leadership meant it was no longer essential for heads to have direct classroom experience.
"It is our view that, where a school (or group of schools) has decided to separate out the chief operating officer role from the professional leadership role, then there should be no barrier to an individual without qualified teacher status taking on that leadership role," the report said.
"Such individuals could well have long-standing experience of working in a school environment or in a wider children's services or voluntary sector setting, but they could also be from other backgrounds that provide relevant skills."