The pay packets of state school headteachers are fast catching up with the salaries of the heads of Britain's most prestigious independent boarding schools, the TES Pay Survey has revealed.
Experts say a culture of higher salaries has been fostered by the burgeoning number of executive heads, some of whom now attract a pay premium of up to 20 per cent.
And the wages of a significant number of England's 203 academy heads are enhanced by performance-related bonuses.
Recent predictions say that up to 100 state school headteachers could now be earning pound;150,000 or more.
These figures compare favourably with the private sector, where Charity Commission accounts returns show that Vicki Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, earns pound;170,000-pound;180,000 and Anthony Seldon, the high-profile master of Wellington College in Berkshire, is rewarded with a salary of around pound;163,000.
This may be only marginally more than the "pound;150,000 or more" currently on offer for the new executive head of the planned federation for Henry Compton and Fulham Cross Girls' School in Fulham, west London.
It is understood that some private school heads are taking up academy jobs because the pay compares favourably with their current remuneration.
About 120 state-sector jobs have been advertised in The TES at more than pound;100,000 in the past two years. But the recent wage inflation goes beyond the secondary sector. Education Data Surveys, a sister company of The TES, has seen primary headships in London advertised at pound;90,000.
Director Professor John Howson said heads' pay was now "gobbling up" substantial portions of schools' budgets and had implications for an already strained pension fund.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said the highest rates were still restricted to a small number of heads but they were "absolutely earning their money."
"There's no question at all, these are difficult jobs with massive responsibilities and accountabilities," he said.
Andrew Grant, chairman of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference, said although increasing numbers of top state-sector salaries were catching up, the average private school head still probably earned more.
He added that lower paid private sector headships also offered "huge compensation in terms of quality of life."
It is not know if any state sector head has legally earned the equivalent of Anthony Little, who earns up to pound;190,000 as headmaster of Eton.
Sir Alan Davies, came close when he received an estimated pound;183,000, including an pound;80,000 bonus as head of the Copland School in Wembley. But Sir Alan resigned after an investigation in the school's allegedly unlawful bonus policy.
High earners the TES spoke to the state sector claimed that although their wages had improved significantly, bonuses were no always assured at academies.
David Carter, executive principal of the Cabot Learning Federation of three academies in Bristol, said the big bucks were restricted to heads of academies with big commercial sponsors.
"We have only the funding that the Government gives us so I don't earn anything like pound;150,000. If I did it might mean we'd have to get rid of a teacher," he said.
The big-money culture in an increasingly privatised system of public education has angered unions, who do not believe heads should be able to receive bonuses.
Last year, the Government said public salaries over pound;150,000 should be made public, but it is unclear if academies, which operate independently, will have to do this.
Campaigners at this year's annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers next week will call for all schools, including academies, to have more public financial accountability systems.
Teacher Hank Roberts, who will make a speech on the subject, said: "There is no place for bonuses in education. It's the head's job to get the highest exam results they can, it's not an extra, it's their job."
Original paper headline: Top state leaders close in on pay of elite public school heads