MINISTERS were this week seeking to peg wage rises for teachers next year to around the rate of inflation.
With the unions calling for a substantial pay increase to combat teacher shortages, the teachers' pay review body has been widely predicted to recommend rises of between 4 and 5 per cent.
But inflation is 3.1 per cent and the Government appears determined to spend extra cash on raising standards in schools rather than on teachers' pay.
Civil servants have told the review body that metropolitan authorities will receive, on average, just a 3.5 per cent rise for education.
This cash has to cover teachers' salaries, other pay and price rises, increased contributions to the Standards Fund and additional pupil numbers. Some 58 councils will get less than a 4 per cent increase next year and there are eight other councils with rises below 3 per cent, all of which are in inner-city areas.
London, which now employs 4,000 supply teachers a day, would be in a better position, said the Department for Education and Employment. But some authorities in the capital would undoubtedly feel the squeeze.
In a joint submission to the review body, the classroom-based unions affiliated to the TUC warn that problems of teacher shortage are deep-seated.
Figures published this week show applications to postgraduae teacher-training courses are down 11.3 per cent for secondary and 7.4 per cent for primary, compared to the same time last year.
Secondary shortage subjects remain in crisis, with maths applications down nearly a third, French down a fifth and German down 36.8 per cent.
A month ago, the Government claimed applications to teacher training had increased by 25 per cent on November 1999. Figures for December 2000 show a drop of more than 8 per cent on the previous year.
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We need fewer initiatives and more pay if we are to turn around the continuing failure to meet recruitment targets."
An announcement on next year's rise for nurses - another shortage profession - is due before Christmas. They are widely expected to get bigger rises than teachers.
This year 58 per cent of teachers applied to cross the pay threshold with its promise of a pound;2,000 rise and a place on a performance-related salary scale of up to pound;30,000.
The highest proportion, 74 per cent, was from Mr Blunkett's old stamping ground, Sheffield. The lowest was in the London borough of Newham, at just 35 per cent.
The NASUWT, National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers and Lecturers and the Welsh teachers' union, UCAC, believe that money for the post-threshold pay spine should go directly to schools rather than to local authorities.