ANALYSTS fight shy of declaring it a crisis, but the evidence increasingly suggests that the problem of unfilled teacher vacancies may be getting worse rather than better.
Both statistical and anecdotal evidence point to escalating numbers of teachers quitting the profession, while trainers warn that the new pound;6,000 training bursary is not proving enough to woo people into shortage subjects.
And schools across the country report growing difficulty in appointing high-quality staff.
John Howson, a recruitment analyst, warned this week: "There is a crisis developing and the danger is that we won't know that it is a crisis until it is here because we are not monitoring the situation."
A year ago, the Government claimed that recruitment problems were easing with the number of empty teaching posts falling by 134 to 2,458 at the beginning of 1999.
Less than 12 months later it was forced to admit that vacancies had risen to 2,660 by January 2000 in nurseries, primaries and secondaries, and to 240 in special schools.
By mid-March there were 1,000 fewer applications for secondary initial teacher-training courses than at the same time last year, and 20 per cent fewer than in 1998.
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "What the Government is doing has come too late. It must improve resources available to schools, cut bureaucracy, improve pay."
Government statistics, produced for MPs, show that 224,000 qualified teachers left the service between 1993 and 1998, but only 77,100 retired.
Shortages seem to be increasing in spite of a huge take-up of the Government's pound;2,000 performance pay offer with 197000 - or 78 per cent of those eligible - applying for the cash.
The Education Management Information Exchange at the National Foundation for Educational Research warns in a new report that some regions will be hit particularly hard by recruitment problems.
The report, by Peter Birks, says the Department for Education and Employment has failed to take local recruitment difficulties into account in calculating the total number of teachers needed nationally. The DFEE says that the number of teachers needed, minus the number in post and those known to be returning to teaching, will give the number to be trained nationally. But, says the report, this assumes that teachers will want to move to wherever the vacancies are.
"Such a view seems to assume that those trained teachers will fill automatically the teaching vacancies wherever they appear. The regional data suggest otherwise," it says.
Birmingham anticipates increasing difficulties in recruiting newly-qualified teachers and is concerned that its teaching force is becoming female dominated.
Sandwell, in the West Midlands, is holding "taster" courses, in collaboration with Wolverhampton University, to let potential recruits try out teaching. Hertfordshire is to create a "welcome back to teaching" scheme, targeted at qualified staff who are not working in schools.
This week Hilary Vaughan, head of Holbrook primary in Horsham, West Sussex, said that recruitment problems, coupled with supply-teacher shortages, meant many classes would start the school year without teachers.
John Oversby, from the school of education at Reading University, meanwhile warned that the pound;10,000 training bursary had not helped recruitment to science courses.
Letters, 18 A Union action against red tape. Document of the week, 21