New government figures show that teacher vacancies in England increased by more than 70 per cent in the year to January 2001 - from 2,780 to 4,980. There were 2,580 vacancies in secondary, at 1.4 per cent double the rate of the previous year.
Yet last month the Department for Education and Employment said the vacancy rate in secondaries was only 0.8 per cent in January - around 1,500 jobs. It was responding to a survey by The TES and the Secondary Heads Association that found 2,410 vacancies in just a quarter of secondaries - equivalent to almost 10,000 across the country as a whole.
Ministers insist that the increase is due to schools creating more jobs with the help of extra Government money. They say that 11,000 more teachers are in post than in 1997. But recruitment analyst Professor John Howson believes the Government's figures seriously underestimate the number of vacancies. He says the true figure is closer to the 10,000 disclosed by the TES survey in January.
The way that government statisticians work out the vacancy total "hides" thousands of the unfilled posts revealed by the TES survey. Posts filled by long-term supply teachers are not included, although since 1997 supply teachers have increased by 42 per cent - from 12,700 to 18,000. Teaching posts filled by unqualified teachers are also omitted. Yet there are now 4,000 instructors where there were only 2,300 three years ago.
Teachers who are working in ubjects other than their own are left out too. So there is no way of knowing how many PE or history teachers have been asked to cover for unfilled maths posts. Finally, the Government's statistics fail to reveal whether heads have reorganised timetables to cut back on science or give Year 8 fewer history lessons.
The DFEE suggested this week that the increase in the official figures may be due to education authorities counting more vacancies "due to the high level of media concern" and that those vacancies might not always comply with the DFEE definition.
The TESSHA survey asked secondary heads how many unfilled permanent vacancies they had at the start of term in January.
Education Secretary David Blunkett is right to say that some of the vacancies exist because schools have more money to hire teachers. The number of adverts in this week's TES in part reflects the extra funds the Chancellor announced in March.
But that is not the whole story. John Howson said: "It really is thunderingly bad news. This makes it quite clear why school standards minister Estelle Morris was opposed to a 35-hour week. There's just no way they could do it."
He points out that the Government figures show that shortages in some secondary subjects are worse than during the recruitment crisis a decade ago. In 1990 there were 279 maths vacancies in England and Wales. This year there are 410 in England alone.
Mr Blunkett said: "The unprecedented increase in demand for teachers has also increased the number of vacant posts and the pressure within the system. Numbers have risen over this Parliament by more than 11,000. This is not an indication of a system in crisis, but one which is growing in confidence and importance."