Projected figures show recruitment targets for teacher training are being missed in almost every subject except physical education, and there are fears that with rising pupil numbers the shortages will be even more acute than during the 1980s.
Even popular subjects such as English and history are affected, while design and technology applications are running at a third of 1994 levels.
Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research, said: "This is very worrying. I hope the new government will turn its attention to this as the first priority for education. All their aspirations become impossible unless there are good teachers in the classroom."
Teaching is perceived as an unattractive profession because of rising pupils numbers, increased indiscipline and violence in schools, and constant teaching reforms, says Professor Smithers.
He does not think increasing salaries would solve the problem.
"I hope the national curriculum, and arrangements for tests and inspections, will be allowed to settle down and teachers will be able to take control in the classroom," he said.
"Teachers need an opportunity to revitalise themselves and their subjects,and I would look towards a system of sabbaticals. And, yes, we do need to look at salaries."
The worry is that there will be a shortage of teachers in particular subjects, and that there are not enough high-calibre graduates being attracted into the profession to enthuse a whole new generation of children.
Some posts are attracting only one or two applications, leading to fears about quality.
The Teacher Training Agency has had early warning of problems through its monitoring of recruitment and supply, and is confident that the measures it is taking will go a long way towards averting a crisis. However, Jane Benham, its head of teacher supply and recruitment, says it is essential that the new Secretary of State for Education becomes involved as soon as possible.
She says the TTA and professional organisations are working together to raise the profile of teaching, and are hoping to raise morale among teachers as well.
"We could do with government support," she said.
John Howson, chief profession al adviser on teacher supply and recruitment for the TTA, said: "We are most likely not to fill design and technology, maths, modern foreign languages, music and science."
In March, the TTA released figures predicting how far short of its targets recruitment was expected to fall. Worst affected were information technology and design and technology, where only a third of places was expected to be filled.
Almost 60 per cent of places were expected to be filled in maths and modern foreign languages, with projected recruitment running at almost 70 per cent in science, English and history.
The TTA's figures for training applications for courses starting this September show a dramatic drop compared with those for 1994. Maths applications have more than halved, from 1,540 to 742, while science has shown a similar trend from 2,968 to 1,612.
The number of applications for modern foreign languages is down from 2,095 to 1,450, and music has gone from 485 to 386. In design and technology, numbers have dropped from 670 to 207.
Even traditionally popular subjects have been hit by falling recruitment, with applications to teach English down from 2,296 to 1,912, history from 1, 755 to 1,670 and geography from 1,004 to 834.
The only areas that are attracting more students are PE (up from 824 to 1,216 applications) and religious education (up from 483 to 518).
Ms Benham says the true scale of recruitment problems is often hidden because schools find members of staff with lesser qualifications to teach specialist lessons, but the TTA is working with local authority associations to try to get a clearer picture.
She says the TTA is evaluating the effectiveness of the financial help targeted to trainees in priority areas, and is asking the subject associations to become involved.