Non-teachers could be taking up heads' positions in primary and special schools within just four years if new Government plans to radically change the way school leaders are trained take off.
Classroom experience will not be a prerequisite for those participating in a new fast-track course being developed by the National College.
But current school leaders say employing those without teaching qualifications to do the top job will cause "resentment". Those behind the scheme counter that only "exceptional" candidates will be accepted on to Tomorrow's Heads.
About 170 people a year will participate in the programme, which is made up of one-to-one coaching and residential courses.
Employing heads who are not trained teachers has so far not been a success. Peter Noble, a former NHS manager, left the role of chief executive at the Richard Rose Federation in Carlisle after one of his schools was overwhelmed by problems and put into special measures by inspectors.
But National College bosses insist recruiting non-teachers will help solve difficulties finding people to lead primary and special schools.
Maxine Evans, head of Rush Common Primary School in Abingdon, helped develop the fast-track programme, which is described as intensive and "highly challenging".
She left teaching to become a sales and marketing director for computer firm RM but went back into school to become a business manager and then trained to become a head.
"We need to deal with the fact we have an ageing generation of headteachers, we need to recruit outstanding replacements," Mrs Evans said. "It (the course) challenges the common view of school leadership. Why not target those who don't have a lot of teaching experience but have high aspirations? We want to attract those who are interested in developing their leadership skills."
This is the first attempt by the National College to run a fast-track course since a previous version was scrapped two years ago because it was too expensive - costing #163;43,000 per participant. Tomorrow's Heads will cost #163;11 million a year.
The National Association of Headteachers has campaigned against appointing school leaders with no classroom experience.
Mike Welsh, vice president, said that the course was an attempt to "cut corners".
"Those who are not trained teachers will not be able to raise standards, this is a way of having a 'chief executive' style role, which is wrong," he said.
"It's all in the name headteacher - they should lead teaching and learning. Recruitment difficulties are a separate issue and the best way of solving that is to give heads more support and make the job more attractive."
Chief executive of the National College, Steve Munby, said: "If we want the best education for our children and young people we need to find even more exceptional people."
The other heads' union, ASCL, supports the idea of employing school leaders who are not trained teachers, provided they work in a primary or secondary.
The policy of putting non-teachers in charge of schools was kicked off by a Government-commissioned study into school leadership three years ago, which suggested that splitting the tasks of administrative head and head of teaching and learning would make the job of school leader more feasible, as well as enabling the senior teacher to focus on their role as lead practitioner.
But it also acknowledged that there was considerable opposition to the idea of a non-teacher running a school, and that "professional credibility with the teaching workforce is paramount".
Applicants who apply have to pass cognitive ability tests, a one-day assessment process, give personal references and submit an essay. They will also need a reference from a head.
Those selected will then spend three years training, supported by a "leadership development adviser". They will receive one-to-one coaching, work experience in outstanding schools and residential courses.
After 36 months, Tomorrow's Heads participants will start the National Professional Qualification for Headship - which entitles them to be a school leader. Anyone wanting to do the course who is not a qualified teacher will need at least two years' management experience to take part.