The role was launched in April last year to reward teachers who wanted to further their careers without moving into management. The grade gives a standard salary of pound;35,874, or pound;42,789 if teachers work in inner London.
The Department for Education and Skills estimated 5,000 would apply for the grade in the first year. But Martin Flatman, National Assessment Agency project director for advanced skills teachers (ASTs) and excellent teachers, said that just 34 had applied so far, of whom 26 had qualified.
And applications had slowed down, with only five since January.
Mr Flatman said he was concerned about the future of the scheme because of the lack of headteachers making the posts available. "I genuinely believe that it is a role that can make a real difference, but without further promotion by the DfES the scheme will fail," he said.
A limited survey of heads by the assessment agency revealed a strong preference for other incentives, such as teaching and learning responsibility (TLR) payments and ASTs. Many heads admitted they did not know the purpose of the excellent teacher role, which is similar to that of ASTs but does not require applicants to do outreach work in neighbouring schools.
More than 7,000 teachers have gained AST status since it was introduced in 1998, many attracted by its more generous pay scales. From this September, they will be able to earn up to pound;59,724.
Teachers may also be deterred from excellent teacher status because, if they gain it, they cannot continue to receive TLR payments.
Only seven of the 49 heads surveyed said they were planning to appoint excellent teachers. Eight said they thought the scheme was divisive and 10 were put off by budgetry constraints, especially in primary schools.
However, Guillemont junior school in Farnborough, Hampshire, has introduced two excellent teacher roles. One was filled last September by Martine Barraclough, a Year 5 and 6 teacher. She mentors other teachers and sits in on colleagues' lessons, offering advice on teaching practice.
"When I first heard the title excellent teacher it sounded awful, but it hasn't been divisive at all," she said. "It's a very supportive role and it is nice to be recognised for doing something I love."
The DfES said it had carried out its own larger study to explore reasons for the slow take-up.
HOW TO APPLY
Excellent teachers were introduced to improve teaching and learning by providing a highly experienced role model to other teachers in their schools.
For a teacher to apply, their headteacher must make an excellent teacher post available. The teacher must fill out an application form, which is then considered by the head. If they are happy for the teacher to be nominated, the application is then submitted to the external assessor.
The external assessor will then come to the school for half a day, watch lessons, interview the candidate and the head, and decide whether the teacher meets the standards.
Applicants need to be able to show they have: continued to develop themselves professionally over their careers; provided regular coaching and mentoring; identified and addressed the needs of a particular group of pupils, preferably over a two-year period leading up to application.