The salaries of heads and deputies had fallen significantly behind those of managers in comparable posts in both the public and private sectors, said the National Association of Head Teachers.
The union, which last week published figures showing a dramatic drop in the number of application for headships and deputy headships, said the decline was directly linked to inadequate pay for high-stress jobs.
The pay claim is certain to be resisted by the Government, which is keen to keep salary levels down to prevent an inflationary spiral.
The NAHT demand would see heads of large secondary schools earning an average pounds 54,000 - around pounds 3,000 more than at present - and heads of large primaries around pounds 39,000 - a rise of pounds 4,500. Deputies would also win rises of around pounds 3,000.
Low wages have led to a situation where at least 400 schools in England and Wales have been unable to recruit a permanent head teacher, according to NAHT figures.
General secretary David Hart said: "When the Chancellor of the Exchequer shortly publishes the Government's position on public sector pay, he must accept that recruitment problems have to be recognised in pay terms.
"Teachers will only apply for the most senior posts in the profession and undertake the significant responsibilities attached if they believe that the salaries offered constitute the `rate for the job'.
"Any Government which tries to `buck the market' with a public sector pay policy, which seeks to artificially hold down salaries, risks provoking an even greater recruitment crisis."
Statistics drawn up by NAHT found that more than six out of every 10 advertisements for senior posts in small and average primary schools this year led to 10 applications or fewer.
IThe School Teachers' Review Body will consider the NAHT evidence before making its report to Education Secretary David Blunkett in February, in time for revised salaries to become effective on 1 April next year.Reuse content