Most teachers remain determined never to become a head, despite the millions of pounds spent on trying to solve the impending leadership crisis in schools.
Attitudes to the post are relatively unchanged, a new study shows, with more than half of teachers saying they still have no interest in the top job.
The widely predicted school leader shortage is explained by the current generation of baby boomer heads preparing to retire, say experts.
But the study, by the National College, found that just 9 per cent of teachers said they wanted to become headteachers within the next three years - the period predicted as the peak for retirement.
And only 40 per cent of middle managers - now targeted in training schemes for the job - say they plan to pursue headship.
The figures are largely unchanged on five years ago, despite ongoing work by the National College.
Research company ICM spoke to 1,000 teachers around the country from a variety of schools.
They found there was also a drop in the number of teachers who said they were "determined" to become primary or special-school leaders.
Other research by EDS, a sister company of The TES, shows most recruitment advertisements attract fewer than 10 candidates.
In 2007, half of teachers in special schools said they wanted to be heads. The figure fell to just 35 per cent in 2008, but has now risen to 54 per cent. In primaries, the number of staff wanting to do the top job has risen by 9 points to 49 per cent, but in secondaries the number has remained static at 33 per cent.
About 7 per cent more men said they wanted to be school leaders than in 2008 - up to 51 per cent. For women, the figure rose 5 points to 35 per cent. Ambition among those working in rural areas increased by 12 per cent.
Despite overall interest in school leadership remaining largely static, Steve Munby, chief executive of the National College, said there were some positives in the study.
"It's great to see such high levels of ambition among teachers, particularly in the 30-44 age bracket," he said. "Headship is challenging but hugely rewarding and this year's index shows us there is no shortage of talent waiting to be tapped.
"Four in 10 middle leaders aspire to be heads, both to boost their own personal development but also to make a difference to children's lives. There's a lot more still to do but we are definitely moving in the right direction."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The lack of interest in becoming a headteacher has always been down to the major increase in responsibility and accountability which comes with the job and everybody recognises that. But a new factor has been the increase in vulnerability, and I'm sure this makes people cautious about applying."