heads of state schools are increasingly in demand in the independent sector, according to recruitment agencies.
The National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH) and the management experience of running a maintained school are seen as valuable assets by private schools. Agencies are also seeing large numbers of state-sector heads applying for jobs in private schools.
Simon Dweck, director of recruitment for Gabbitas, which specialises in recruitment for independent schools, says most of its enquiries for heads'
posts come from the state sector. "We have a large number of headteachers from the state sector who are interested in working in the independent sector both here and abroad," he said.
Thanks to headship qualifications, the quality of applicants is very high.
"I think there's a lot more scope for state school heads to come into the independent sector, certainly with smaller schools," Mr Dweck said. "The issues that smaller (independent) schools have are similar at headship level to the issues state schools have."
There are no figures for the number of heads moving from the state sector into the UK's 2,500 independent schools. Traditionally, private-school heads have tended to teach in the independent sector and work their way up.
But Jonathan McIntyre, managing director of the agency CJA Recruitment, has seen a shift in the private sector towards heads with state-school experience. He cites a recent vacancy at a Catholic independent school, where most of the shortlist came from state schools.
"Across the board, the candidates were much stronger than those in the independent sector," he said.
Heads' salaries are generally higher in the independent sector. A large independent senior school would pay between pound;90,000 and pound;120,000, depending on its size and prestige. And many schools offer a package of benefits that could include accommodation, medical insurance and free education for the head's children.
The shortage of heads is not yet as acute in the independent sector as it is in state schools, where last year about 1,000 headships were re-advertised. But crisis looms. A recent survey by the Girls' Schools Association, which represents 205 schools, found that 68 per cent of its heads were over 50 and that within five years there would be 64 vacancies among its members.
Dr Brenda Despontin, the association's president and head of Monmouth school for girls, says the independent sector welcomes heads with state school experience because they come with qualifications, good management experience and sound business acumen.
She said that a growing number of private-school heads and deputies are now taking the NPQH. "I think the independent sector can learn from the state sector in preparing and training the next cohort of leaders," she said.
Is the grass greener?
Independent school heads say they like having more freedom to innovate and to choose the curriculum.
Heads' salaries are generally higher in the private sector. Some in the top schools reportedly earn more than pound;120,000 a year.
Independent schools have only 7 per cent of the school population, but supply 38 per cent of those achieving three A grades or better at A-level.
From January 2007, all independent schools will be inspected every three years.
All 1,288 schools represented by the Independent Schools Council are inspected by the Independent Schools Inspectorate. The rest are inspected by Ofsted.