Almost a third of all schools are unable to recruit good quality staff, according to a major survey published by The TES today.
The survey, which canvassed a random and representative sample of headteachers in England and Wales, has revealed that schools are suffering from a desperate shortage of English, maths and science teachers.
A third of primary heads and 47 per cent of secondary heads told The TES they could not recruit staff of the calibre they needed to teach the national curriculum.
Penny Elvin, head of St Stephen's primary in the London borough of Lambeth, said: "Our children deserve the best - staff, equipment facilities, support - but don't often get it." She is taking early retirement and said: "The governors have advertised twice and have not been able to draw up a short list; there have only been three applicants."
Many primary heads said it was hard to find the right quality of applicant at a price they could afford. Paul Rhodes, head of St Thomas junior, Pontefract, West Yorkshiresaid: "As a primary school we do not employ specialists. Our problem concerns the employment of the cheapest teachers, not the most skilled or most experienced."
Difficulties reported by headteachers were borne out this week by parliamentary answers obtained by David Blunkett, the shadow education and employment secretary. These showed that the number of early-years and primary teachers in training has fallen every year since 1992 and that the number of qualified secondary teachers in English, maths and science has dropped continuously over the past decade.
The statistics also revealed that in 1984 there were 47,900 qualified maths secondary teachers. By 1992 the figure had dropped to 38,100. The number of English teachers has fallen from 54,900 to 40,100 in the same time.
Mr Blunkett said: "When pupil numbers are on the increase the Conservatives' failure to plan properly for our children's future has created a ticking timebomb in terms of a future shortage of suitably qualified teachers in key subject specialisms."
The parliamentary answers also revealed that slightly fewer teachers took early retirement last year. Numbers fell from 11,710 in 199394 to 11,580 the following year.
And headteachers told The TES that once they managed to appoint staff, the majority stayed from six years to more than a decade (see box below).
Just one school - a primary in Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire - admitted that its teachers stayed on average for less than two years. This could reflect the current tendency for headteachers to appoint teachers on one-year or one-term contracts.
Jennifer Deeming, head of Eastfield primary in Wolverhampton said: "This is a school in a difficult area: many teachers do not stay the course, others simply do not want to come here.
"People either give up very quickly or become committed to our kind of pupil and stay."
The highest proportion of teachers quitting before five years were in primary schools where 16 per cent of heads said the staff stayed on average for between two and five years, compared to 8 per cent of secondary heads and 7 per cent of middle-school heads.
All sectors reported, however, that the bulk of their staff stayed between six years and more than a decade. In primaries, 52 per cent of heads said staff stayed for six to 10 years and 32 per cent for more than 10 years. In middle schools, the figures were 36 per cent and 57 per cent respectively and in the secondaries 47 per cent and 45 per cent.
Additional research by Virginia Purchon, Donna Nichols and Gaynor Atkins