There is no teacher recruitment crisis, schools minister Nick Gibb insisted this week, provoking "serious alarm" among headteachers who are struggling to find staff.
In his first education interview since the general election, Mr Gibb was asked by TES about school leaders' increasing difficulty in filling teaching jobs.
"I don't believe there is a crisis," he said. "There's a challenge and we're managing the challenge."
Mr Gibb also revealed that the government may still demand further reforms to Ofsted, over and above those already being undertaken by the inspectorate. And the minister hit back against schools' warnings that a funding squeeze will lead to bigger classes, insisting that budgets were "protected".
His comments on teacher shortages have already proven controversial. Last month TES revealed that Teach First, the country's biggest provider of new teachers, believes England is experiencing its worst teacher shortage this century.
Mr Gibb said he was aware of the charity's warning, but he insisted that the government was "recruiting lots of people coming into teacher training and if you look at acceptances as of now they are higher than they were this time last year".
"Vacancies are very steady at about 1 per cent of the total profession and that has been consistent for about 15 years since the year 2000," he added.
But teacher supply expert Professor John Howson dismissed the claims as "rubbish", adding that the government's teacher vacancy rates no longer compare like with like because they are now collected at a different time of year and exclude Christmas vacancies.
`Complete and utter garbage'
Ros McMullen, executive principal of the David Young Community Academy in Leeds, branded Mr Gibb's comments "complete and utter garbage". Like other headteachers, she believes schools are facing a "perfect storm" in recruitment.
Ms McMullen accused Mr Gibb of being "out of touch" and said she was "seriously alarmed" that ministers believed the situation had remained steady for 15 years (see panel, below).
But Mr Gibb insisted that the government was "not complacent" and knew there were challenges. "That's why we have these bursaries for shortage subjects like maths and physics and foreign languages," he said. "It's why we continue the marketing activities and they are very successful."
Ian Bauckham, headteacher of Bennett Memorial Diocesan School, a secondary in Kent, said Mr Gibb's comments were a matter of "semantics".
"Nick Gibb is looking at the national teacher supply data, which is showing that the situation is not as acute as people are feeling on the ground," he said. "But if you speak to people they are finding it very difficult, they are really feeling the pinch, so clearly something very challenging is going on. So no one is lying here."
When asked about warnings from schools that squeezed budgets are leading to teacher redundancies and bigger class sizes, Mr Gibb said: "We've protected schools budgets, don't forget.
"We're having to deal with the public sector deficit and it is a severe issue - you see what happens to countries that don't tackle it. We were in the same position as Greece - the size of our budget deficit compared to the GDP was the same."
The government has pledged that "cash" funding for every pupil will remain the same. But schools have pointed out that inflation and rising staffing costs mean they are facing real-terms funding cuts.
"I accept it's demanding," Mr Gibb added. "But we're talking about a child's education and they have one chance at that education. We have all got to bust a gut to make sure that child gets the best education possible.
"And also, not everything, when it comes to raising standards, is about money. It's also about what you do with the money, how you organise your curriculum, what you teach, the teaching methods."
Mr Gibb also revealed that the government is considering further reforms to Ofsted, beyond those that the watchdog is already introducing with its new inspection framework and cull of 1,200 inspectors.
The minister said he welcomed the changes. But when asked if they would be enough, he said: "We have a manifesto commitment to ensure that the process of inspection does not add to the workload of teachers, and we are looking at that manifesto commitment to see what and whether further reform is necessary for Ofsted."
`Ministers are out of touch'
Ros McMullen, executive principal of the David Young Community Academy in Leeds, says the teacher recruitment crisis is the main topic of conversation between headteachers.
"It shows how out of touch ministers are," says Ms McMullen (pictured) in response to Mr Gibb's insistence that there is no crisis.
"I have been a headteacher for 15 years and I have never known it so bad. The same is being said by my colleagues in schools in the leafy suburbs, in inner-city schools, in the North, in the South.
"Where it has always been difficult to recruit, it has become harder. Where it used to be easy to find staff, it is now difficult. Even heads in independent schools are finding it tough."
Schools are now facing a "perfect storm" in teacher recruitment, she says. "I am seriously alarmed if we have ministers saying it's the same as it has been for 15 years. It absolutely is not and it is very, very worrying if they believe it is."