Headteachers are turning to cheaper support staff as school budgets tighten, according to figures that show a drop in teacher numbers but a sharp increase in the number of teaching assistants.
Between January 2008 and January this year, the number of secondary teachers fell by 3,400 to 211,900 - showing the impact of a falling birth rate that had previously hit primary schools.
This is the first drop in teacher numbers in secondary schools for four years, although the dip in primary schools started two years ago.
Meanwhile, government statistics show that the numbers of support staff soared by 15,600 to 338,000, including 5,400 more teaching assistants.
Peter Price, chairman of the National Primary Headteachers' Association, said many headteachers would employ even more support staff if they could afford them.
"They are always looking for quality staff but they can't increase the number of teachers because it's too expensive," he said.
"But it is accessible for them to get TAs - although the disparity in funding means it's hit and miss that they can even afford this.
"Teaching assistants aren't a luxury at all and we think they are crucial for all children. The support they give is immeasurable."
The rise in support staff also included an increased number of school bursars and secretaries.
Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said this showed schools were being "swamped" by bureaucracy.
"Every pound spent on a bursar or other admin staff is a pound that could have been spent on the curriculum," he said.
"We have to stem the tide of bureaucracy that looks set to get worse because of the new education bill and other proposals.
"The rise in the number of teaching assistants is very helpful, but there are still differences in how they are used and wide variations regionally in their numbers."
The number of teachers in primary and nursery schools fell by just 100 to 197,900 while those in special schools and pupil referral units rose by the same amount to 21,600. The number of pupils to each teacher is now 21.4 in primary schools and 15.9 in secondaries.
Jim Knight, the Schools Minister, said he was pleased to see a fall in the number of unfilled jobs in primaries and secondaries, saying this was because of financial incentives such as golden hellos and training bursaries as well as the recession.
The proportion of vacant posts in primary, secondary and special schools was down from 0.7 per cent to 0.6 per cent.
"In these challenging economic times, people are seeing teaching and support staff positions in schools as increasingly appealing options, in part due to the attractive financial rewards put in place, but also due to the tremendous personal rewards that go with them," Mr Knight said.
'DSCF: School workforce in England' is at www.dcsf.gov.uk
Rise and fall: recruitment '08-'09
Changes in staff numbers:
- All teachers: down by 3,400 to 431,400
- Primary and nursery teachers: down by 100 to 197,900
- Secondary teachers: down by 3,400 to 211,900
- Special school and pupil referral unit teachers: up by 100 to 21,600
- Support staff: up by 15,600 to 338,000
- Vacant posts for primary and nursery teachers: down by 110 to 760
- Vacant posts for secondary teachers: down by 160 to 1,310.