Highly paid school leaders could be driven to cut their own salaries as a "grand gesture" when the cuts bite and tensions build in schools, a heads' leader has predicted.
John Fairhurst, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, said some prominent headteachers would consider cutting their own wages to counter negative press coverage about their earnings and appease staff if the financial situation becomes fraught in their schools.
They might also try to plug funding shortfalls by stepping up consultancy work and ploughing the money back into the school, he said.
Other heads close to retirement may decide to bow out early, he said, to avoid the stress of implementing cuts that may mean making redundancies or making unpopular decisions about staff roles.
He said: "It (a voluntary pay cut) might happen in some high-profile cases where the head has the margin to do it, as a way of addressing negative publicity about their salary."
The warning comes in the wake of media coverage about the salaries of a number of highly paid London headteachers last summer.
Mark Elms, head of Tidemill Primary in Deptford, south London, was hounded by the media after a union revealed he had earned about pound;230,000 in the last year.
The package was so large because Mr Elms had been allowed to pocket 85 per cent of the pound;120,000 fee paid to his school for consultancy work, when usually it would all go to the school.
Jacqui Valin, head of Southfields Community School in Wandsworth, south London, was also revealed to be a high earner. The local council wrote to schools asking governors to be "reasonable and transparent" on pay after her pound;198,000 salary was publicised.
But Mr Fairhurst insisted that his organisation would never advocate heads giving themselves pay cuts, and only the "odd maverick" would consider doing it in adverse circumstances.
He said: "There won't be widespread grand gestures of that sort unless the situation gets very fraught.
"The room for that sort of gesture is not there for the majority of heads, but a high-profile head might do it."
He said that much of the media perpetuated the "myth" that there were thousands of school leaders earning enormous pay packets.
An official survey of headteachers' pay in 2008 by the School Teachers' Review Body revealed that median average pay for secondary heads was pound;95,000 in inner London and pound;77,000 outside London.
Mick Brookes, former leader of heads' union the NAHT, recently suggested that schools should be able to pay heads "as much as footballers and pop singers" because of their value to society.
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Mr Fairhurst's comments come as an investigation last week revealed that 17 teachers are earning more than the Prime Minister, who is now paid pound;142,500 after voluntarily taking a 5 per cent cut. The survey for BBC's Panorama programme found that 385 teachers are earning over pound;100,000.
- Orignial headline: Top heads may be driven to slash their own pay