Sexism is keeping a lid on women’s ambitions in secondary schools, according to the shadow education secretary.
Tristram Hunt warned “casual, everyday sexism” was stopping female headteachers reaching the top and claimed the number of women leading schools was falling.
Figures from 2012 suggest two thirds of state secondary schools are headed by men.
In a speech to the annual conference of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), Mr Hunt said: “When it comes to the appointment of secondary school leaders, we have, like so many other sectors, a gender challenge.
“The statistics are stark. Despite the fact that 62 per cent of all teachers working in secondary education are women, when it comes to head teachers that figure drops to just over a third. And it is falling.”
He added: “What is more, when you hear some of the shocking testimony collected by the Future Leaders charity - schools not following proper legal process; comments about 'too much oestrogen flying around'; governors' recruiting based upon gender - then it does seems to paint a picture of prejudice in some of our secondary schools.
"There is simply no place in our society for this kind of casual, everyday sexism and we must confront it in our schools system whenever we encounter it."
The Labour MP told delegates pupils were losing out in schools swayed by gender that were missing the chance to appoint the best person for the job.
"School governors must uphold their moral and legal duties when it comes to fair access to leadership. And where this is not happening, we must all shine a spotlight," he said.
Brian Lightman, ASCL’s general secretary, said: "Any recruitment panel for any job needs to be fully trained in the equal opportunities requirements and needs to be mindful of those processes."
The remarks came amid claims that “institutional racism” was blocking black trainee teachers entering education.
Statistics from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry showed just 17.2 per cent of black African applicants and 28.7 per cent of black Caribbean applicants were taken on by teacher training institutions in 2013.
Professor Heidi Mirza, who specialises in race, faith and culture at Goldsmiths’ sociology department, said diversity in teaching was crucial for British children to become “global citizens”.
She told The Guardian: “We need to do some soul searching in our teacher education provision and look at the insidious ways institutional racism keeps potential black, minority ethnic and refugee teachers from getting on and through their courses.
“I do think there is a hidden crisis in teacher education, which has slipped under the wire of Gove's reforms in education.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said the number of teachers from black and minority ethnic backgrounds had risen year-on-year to 13,400 in 2012.
Additional reporting by Press Association