Gender bias among governors is preventing women from becoming secondary-school heads, Labour's education spokesman Tristram Hunt said yesterday.
He revealed how one woman head had been told by an appointment panel: "We believe that the local mining community would be more aligned to a male figurehead than that of a female one."
Mr Hunt cited research from the education charity, the Future Leaders Trust, showing that the gap between the number of males and females appointed to secondary school headships was growing.
The figures showed that, in 2012, 64 per cent of heads were men – and only 36 per cent women. This meant 2,100 men and 1,200 women heads. Two years earlier, the ratio was 60 per cent men to 40 per cent women.
Speaking at the Association of School and College Leaders conference in Birmingham, Mr Hunt said: "There is no place in our school system for this sort of casual everyday sexism that conforms to the views of 1980s conservatism. At every step we must confront sexism that prevents access to opportunity based on merit."
He added that the research painted a "picture of prejudice" among secondary-school appointments, adding: "If governors dismiss 50 per cent of the talent... they are missing out on appointing the best person and will hold their schools back."