The School Teachers' Review Body finally backed proposals for the bonuses this week, but it is worried that existing staff will consider them unfair, especially when many returners would have come back anyway.
Returning teachers of secondary subjects that face the biggest staff shortages will get pound;1,000 up-front and pound;3,000 after a year. Other returners will get pound;500 immediately and pound;1,500 a year later. In order to qualify staff must have taught fewer than 16 days since April 2000. Teachers who have already returned this term will be eligible for the cash.
Ministers have set aside pound;26 million over three years for the bonuses. They admit 10,000 ex-teachers already return each year.
The review body's report asks if the bonus "is the most effective use of the resources available". Many teachers would have returned anyway, and some serving staff will consider the bonuses unfair, it says.
It concludes that targeting cash at individual schools would be better and warns: "Short-term incentive initiatives complicate an already complex pay structure without necessarily addressing the more fundamental issues." The Department for Education and Skills says it is putting a long-term recruitment strategy in place.
The bonuses will be available in Wales but funded only in England, renewing concerns about the implications of devolution.
The review body recently complained to Education Secretary Estelle Morris about the increasing number of extra reviews, such as the one about returners' bonuses, that it is being asked to conduct on top of its annual report into pay and conditions.