TEACHERS are being offered the chance to win pound;5,000 if they sign up with an ambitious supply agency, in what is claimed to be the industry's biggest recruitment drive.
In a sign of schools' increasing desperation to fill vacancies and competition among the agencies, Teaching Personnel is offering 10 lucky winners a share of a pound;50,000 prize draw.
The Hertfordshire company claims to have had an "amazing" response after launching its pound;1.5 million campaign in The TES two weeks ago. But it was dismissed as "disgraceful" by one of the firm's rivals.
Ian Penman, chairman of one of the country's largest agencies, Timeplan, said: "God only knows what heads think of this. It's tacky and inappropriate. It's certainly not a route we intend to go down: the only way to deal with professionals is in a professional manner."
Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The Government ought to be extremely distressed if we are reduced to such gimmicks in order to staff our schools.
"The supply agencies have been masking the real teacher shortage for years. The fact they are having to do this to fill vacancies just shows what a serious situation we are in."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said "This just illustrates the way the market is going. In some areas, schools can't find supply teachers for love nor mney. We need a national strategy for teacher recruitment."
The draw, however, is not the only marketing move being attempted by Teaching Personnel, which says it has a database of 40,000 teachers.
It is also offering teachers pound;100 if they manage to persuade a professional friend to sign up with the company.
And in some areas, those signing up will be guaranteed money, even on days when the firm cannot find them work.
Graham Hellier, the company's chairman, said: "The draw is only one of a number of incentives we are offering to teachers. If people think it's tacky, they are entitled to their opinion, but the reality is that teachers now have the choice of many agencies.
"We want to offer as many incentives as possible to ensure they sign with Teaching Personnel."
Mr Penman said this was the worst teacher supply crisis since the 1970s. In June, the company reported 1,000 vacancies in London, the Home Counties and west Midlands. The figure has now risen to 1,500.
Latest figures, for January this year, indicate that one in 20 posts nationally were either filled by supply teachers or by unqualified "instructors" - the highest figure for many years.
Belinda Turner, managing director of the agency Spring, which covers London, the Home Counties and Birmingham, said recruitment this year was the worst she had seen it for nine years.
"Teaching is no longer an attractive profession. It's poorly paid, stressful, involves long hours and is not held in high regard, either by teachers or parents," she said.