New figures show women remain under-represented at head and deputy level, despite the increasing feminisation of the teaching force.
A conference of women heads of girls' schools branded the situation a "disgrace".
Lack of female role models and appropriate professional development, plus difficulties with childcare, sexism and long hours, were blamed for deterring women from pursuing promotion.
Women start falling behind men in the early years of their classroom careers, according to newly-published Department for Education and Employment statistics for March 1999. The effect is worse in primary schools, although more women work in them than in secondaries. Men also move more quickly into management roles in the special schools sector.
After 10 to 14 years in primary teaching, 82.3 per cent of women have yet to make senior management, with more than a third still at point nine on the salary scale, the maximum without additional responsibility. By the same mid-
career stage, only 16 per cent of men in primaries are on point nine or under while nearly 45 per cent are heads or deputies, compared to only 17 per cent of women.
Getting more women teachers into senior positions was a key theme of the Association of Maintained Girls' Schools annual conference in Stratford-upon-Avon last weekend.
Delegates were told of research carried out by Dr Marianne Coleman, senior lecturer in education management at the University of Leicester, which found that more than half of women headteachers surveyed believed they had been the victim of sexist attitdes, particularly while seeking promotion.
Elspeth Insch, the association's outgoing president, said: "We deplore this disgraceful situation. Promotion of women within schools has often been very different from men and often subject to discrimination.
"Secondary appointment panels are often dominated by men and this can have a detrimental effect on the appointment of women.
"When I went for a job as head of a mixed school, I was asked: 'How will you cope with boys' discipline?' That is quite appalling. My gut reaction was to ask how they would cope with girls' discipline, which can be far more devious and sophisticated."
The conference called for the Government to insist that appointment panels have equal numbers of men and women members.
John Bangs, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said that the Government should translate its talk of "family-friendly" policies into action to help women juggle a career with the demands of home life.
Peter Newton, head of programmes at the National College for School Leadership, believes part of the answer lies in more women taking the National Professional Qualification for Headship, which will be mandatory for all new heads from 2002.
He said: "The college is very concerned about this issue and we plan to have a major role in tackling it."
A spokesperson for the DFEE said that the number of women in senior positions was steadily rising, with females accounting for 62 per cent of the 8,000 candidates currently taking the headship qualification.
Conference report, 7 Male teachers are still promoted faster and earn more than their female colleagues