Twenty-four schools in Sussex have started the new academic year without a permanent headteacher.

Thousands of pupils will have acting heads while the education authorities attempt to recruit replacements.

The statistics were released following an announcement from the General Teaching Council for England (GTCe) that it has become harder nationally to recruit new heads.

A new survey has shown candidates have been put off by the demands of the role.

The GTCe warned the problem was likely to worsen as many heads approach retirement age.

In West Sussex, where the average starting salary for a headteacher is £38,559, there is a shortage of 11 heads.

Horsham MP Francis Maude, whose constituency includes three of the schools, said: "It is a completely unsatisfactory situation. Some gaps are inevitable when headteachers have to give notice unexpectedly but there are far too many."

In West Sussex there are acting heads at Gossops Green Primary and St Wilfrid's Catholic Secondary schools in Crawley, Arunside Primary and The Forest School in Horsham, St Peter's CE Primary, in Cowfold, The Meads Primary, in East Grinstead, Rustington Primary, in Rustington, Court Meadows Special School, in Cuckfield, and West Park First and Middle School, in Worthing.

All are awaiting the appointment of a new headteacher.

Holmbush First School, in Shoreham, and Manor Hall Middle School, in Southwick, will both have acting heads until the outcome of moves to reorganise schools in the Adur district is known.

Conservative Mr Maude said: "It doesn't surprise me at all that it is difficult to recruit. Any head you speak to will tell you the amount of interference from government is enormous. They want to be the head of a school, not a paper-pusher."

Only four per cent of teachers surveyed by the GTCe said they wanted to become a headteacher within the next five years.

A West Sussex County Council spokeswoman said its situation was not considered a major problem and it was confident the vacancies would be filled.

She said the 11 schools represented a small proportion of the 300 the council was responsible for.

Nine of 194 East Sussex schools also started term last week without a headteacher.

A county council spokeswoman said: "Recruiting to headship is challenging. We work closely with schools and have some very effective procedures in place to make sure we attract the right people."

Tim Lucas, East Sussex representative for the National Union of Teachers, said the absence of a permanent head could impact on the performance of teachers and pupils.

Mr Lucas said: "It can be a period of uncertainty for everyone involved. Some kids might see it as an opportunity to misbehave."

He said it was fortunate that most acting heads were deputies who had already been at the schools and understood the way they were run.

He said the continuity made it easier for teachers and pupils.

Brighton and Hove's popularity as a place to live has helped recruit teachers to its 73 schools.

There are permanent headteachers at all Brighton and Hove's secondary schools.

However, there are acting heads at four primary schools in the city.

Councillor Pat Hawkes, responsible for education, said: "At the schools which have changed headteachers in the last few years there has been no shortage of high-calibre candidates. We don't expect this situation to change because our children's services are progressive and are showing sustained improvements in both academic and social outcomes for our children and young people."

She said Brighton and Hove was a great city to live in and would remain an attractive proposition for high-calibre teachers.