MORE schools could go on a four-day week in the autumn, councils predict, as two of the country's biggest authorities each reported more than 550 teacher vacancies at the start of this month.
The 576 vacancies in Surrey and 609 in Kent alone add up to almost a quarter of the Government's official national total of vacancies in January, the last time ministers collected figures.
John White, Surrey's head of education personnel, said: "This is significantly worse than anything we've ever experienced before."
Nick Henwood, education director for Kent, said: "There is a really serious problem. We are concerned about the number of vacancies and about the quality of people coming in." Mr Henwood's job will also be vacant - and Kent is advertising his job in today's TES at pound;130,000, plus a substantial incentive payment.
The council figures were compiled after May 31, the deadline for teachers to hand in their notice. This means heads cannot recruit existing staff and must rely on newly qualified teachers, returners and supply staff to fill the gaps.
Meanwhile, the London boroughs of Hillingdon and Hounslow reported one in 10 teaching posts unfilled for Sepember.
Just last week inspectors warned that recruitment problems in the two west London authorities were undermining efforts to raise standards. Now warnings of a four-day week in some schools have been sounded by their education directors.
Hillingdon forecasts 200 vacancies among its 2,100 teaching staff for September. Hounslow too has around 10 per cent of its posts unfilled.
Philip O'Hear, Hillingdon's chief education officer, said schools faced four-day weeks or cutting non-statutory nursery provision. "I hesitate to use the word 'crisis', but it is."
One secondary school in the borough does not have a single maths teacher for September with the entire department leaving. Overall, it has 15 vacancies out of a full staff complement of 80. A Hillingdon primary meanwhile faces starting the year without two- thirds of the 12 permanent teaching staff it needs.
Douglas Trickett, Hounslow's education director, also raised the prospect of four-day weeks and said there were around 90 unfilled posts in the secondary sector alone.
The General Teaching Council has claimed that the Government's vacancy figures "do not provide a credible snapshot of the supply picture, in which quality is as important as quantity". The GTC is to carry out a national survey next year of teachers leaving the profession.