A record 40,000 people will begin teacher training in England this year - a 50 per cent increase on five years ago - according to new figures from the Teacher Training Agency.
Its chief executive Ralph Tabberer said the agency was now "close to the peak" for total numbers of recruits, although more were still needed in the shortage subjects - maths, science and foreign languages.
He said the agency was focusing on the new higher-level teacher assistants.
It will provide 20,000 places a year by 2006-7.
School leaders also confirmed improvements in the numbers and quality of newly-qualified teachers but said recruitment was jeopardised by the low salary allowance for teachers on the fringe of London.
This year's figures show 33,897 recruits to mainstream initial training courses and 6,382 to school-based routes - an overall increase of 11 per cent on last year.
Compared with last year, maths recruits to mainstream courses have increased by 16 per cent, languages by 5 per cent and science by 7 per cent, although all three subjects missed their target figures.
In 1998-9 there were 26,207 people training in colleges and 643 in schools.
The rise was hailed as a step change by Professor Michael Barber, head of the Prime Minister's delivery unit, who gave the keynote speech at the training agency's annual review this week.
Mr Tabberer said the extra recruits had been attracted by training bursaries of pound;6,000 a year. "Introducing bursaries for postgraduates in 2000 has made all the difference to young people considering teaching as a career. They are prepared to do another year's study without the fear of debt," he said.
He said another vital factor had been the new routes into teaching such as the Graduate Teacher Programme, Fast Track and Teach First, which often involve on-the-job training. Heads said the quality of recruits seemed higher. Mary Dawe, assistant principal of Collingwood college in Camberley, Surrey, said: "There is a much higher uptake from NQTs when I advertise a job, and the standard of NQTs is higher."
But Debbie Cooper, deputy head of George Abbot secondary in Guildford, said recruitment was still difficult for schools in the South-east that can only offer London "fringe" allowances. "We are losing some of our teachers because they are finding cheaper places to live and getting a higher standard of living," she said.
The introduction of higher-level teacher assistants is designed to cut pressure on teachers as part of the workload agreement. Working under supervision, they will be able to deliver lessons to whole classes alone, manage support staff and plan their own work.
Mr Tabberer said the TTA would fund 7,000 places for a 50-day training programme for the new assistants from 2004-5. This would rise to 14,000 in 2005-6, and 20,000 in 2006-7.
He said 200 training providers had expressed an interest in offering the courses, which will include full and part-time training through theory lessons and school experience. Existing assistants might get higher-level status by simply passing an assessment, he suggested. There would also be a foundation degree that incorporated the new training course.
FRIDAY MAGAZINE 20