The halcyon days of 78 applicants per headship post are long gone, but in secondary schools the crisis is beginning to abate.
ABOUT 70,000 pupils will start term next week at schools in England that are still unable to find a permanent headteacher.
An analysis of new figures indicates that between 250 and 300 primary schools, and approximately 30 secondary schools, have been unable to recruit a headteacher for September.
The lack of a major pay difference between classroom teachers and heads; light-touch Ofsted inspections, which put more direct emphasis on leaders; increased accountability; and a high number of retirements have all been blamed.
The report indicates that primary head recruitment has worsened. Between September 2006 and March 2007, 35 per cent of primary schools were unable to fill posts, up from 28 per cent in 200506.
But the study, which is based on 3,000 job adverts for 1,669 leadership posts, revealed that recruitment to secondaries is improving slightly. Only 19 per cent were unable to recruit by March, compared to 22 per cent last year.
The findings come from the 13th annual report on the state of the labour market for senior staff, produced by Professor John Howson, a recruitment analyst.
The average number of applications for each first advert for a headship had increased in all sectors, but there were big regional variations.
Despite efforts to lower the age at which teachers become heads, the number appointed in their 50s rose again this year to 28 per cent, up 5 percentage points on last year.
This has been put down to the proliferation of academies, which usually favour experience over youth. Thirty-six are opening in September.
The number of women recruited to secondary headships now stands at 41 per cent, a slight improvement on previous years.
Applications for deputies were down across the board, but assistant headships are becoming more popular in secondary and special schools.
The grim picture for primaries emerges with the increasing trend towards federating and merging schools moves that can disguise recruitment problems.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said the Government needed to throw its weight behind "improving the attractiveness of leadership posts".
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "The Government must do more to address the fundamental issues of increased workload and pressure on senior school leaders, which are the major factors in discouraging good candidates from applying."
Chris Davis, a spokesman for the National Primary Headteachers' Association, has just retired from his headship at Queniborough Primary in Leicestershire.
He said that when he got the job in 1983 there were 78 other applicants. But when the job was re-advertised earlier this year, there were just three. The job went to deputy head Joy Hardy.
Mr Davis said: "The list of things that puts people off headship is getting longer. I think in the case of a school such as Queniborough, with very good value-added scores, some senior teachers would be afraid to take the risk."
The report comes as the National College for School Leadership announced it is launching a team of 19 regional consultants to work with local authorities, dioceses and other bodies to "develop strategies to bring in the next generation of headteachers".
Jim Knight, schools minister, said it was not surprising that headteacher vacancies had to be re- advertised, as this was common for top jobs in industry.
"We have already increased the maximum heads can earn to over pound;100,000 a year and given schools record numbers of support staff to help heads in the challenging job they do," he said.
Recruitment at a glance for 2006-7
Primary schools received on average 4.9 applicants per headship
There was an average of 15.2 applications per secondary headship post
Ten per cent of new primary heads in London were under 35
73 per cent of primary head appointments were women
40 per cent of secondary headship posts were advertised because of a retirement before 60
In secondaries, 27 per cent of schools appointed a new head internally. Half did so in the east of England, whereas in London the figure was 11 per cent
There were two secondary headship appointments from ethnic minority groups, both women
It is estimated that 25 special schools will start the new term without a permanent head.