Applications to secondary teacher training courses have collapsed, prompting fears of a recruitment crisis within five years.
New statistics seen by The TES reveal a year-on-year drop of nearly 10 per cent in students applying to become secondary teachers. Some subjects are witnessing a fall of nearly 40 per cent.
Experts and academics have warned that widespread fear of public sector job cuts and uncertainty over the future of teacher training are behind the drastic decline in applications.
Numbers hoping to do secondary courses are down by 9.3 per cent overall, according to the latest Graduate Teacher Training Register statistics.
Figures for individual subjects are confidential, but it is understood that applications to maths courses are down by 14 per cent, while science shows an 18 per cent drop. Design and technology applications have fallen by 38 per cent, business studies by 26 per cent and music by 27 per cent.
Professor John Howson, managing director of Education Data Surveys, a sister company of The TES, estimates that there will be between 2,600 to 3,000 applications for maths courses this year, down from 3,684 last year.
In turn, he predicts there will be a teacher shortfall by September 2013 or 2014, with London particularly hard hit because of competition from other careers.
"Applications before the new year are from those really committed to teaching," he said. "Those who apply after that are much harder to capture, so we won't get back those potential teachers lost now. The Government is sleepwalking into a crisis."
Applications for maths, physics and modern foreign languages at King's College London are down this year. Simon Gibbons, director of their secondary PGCE programmes, said: "There is a perception from students that they won't find modern foreign language jobs, although that might change because of the English Baccalaureate.
"People are uncertain about working in the public sector; they are questioning if it is a secure profession."
The Training and Devlopment Agency for Schools (TDA), along with other quangos and Government departments, is banned from running its usual advertising and marketing campaigns as part of a cost-cutting policy introduced by ministers last May.
The TDA board expressed "deep concern" at the possible impact of the freeze during their meeting last November. Government officials have now approved a "limited" campaign.
Andy Jones, dean of the Institute of Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, said the drop in secondary applicants was also caused by uncertainty over teacher training. The number of places was due to be announced in September but a decision has yet to be made by the Government.
"Potential students don't know what inducements, such as bursaries, they will have," he said.
"I'm sure the lack of a TDA marketing campaign has also had an effect. I know people are also fearful of the future of public services."
James Noble-Rogers, executive director of the Universities' Council for the Education of Teachers, said: "There is much uncertainty in teacher training at the moment, and that is combined with concerns about how many jobs will be available in the public sector. This means it is the worst time possible for the Government to delay announcements about funding and allocations to universities."
A similar fall in applications happened after the last recession in the early 1990s.
Shortage subjects were also then unpopular when the recovery started. In 1993, there were 2,613 applications for maths courses. By 1997, this had fallen to 1,579.
Bursaries were introduced in 2000 to stop teacher shortages. The Government has not yet said if they will be paid from 2011 onwards.
While applications to secondary school training places have plummeted, there has been an increase of 3.7 per cent for primary places, meaning the overall drop in applications for both phases stands at 2 per cent.
A TDA spokeswoman said: "The GTTR (graduate teacher training register) opened almost a month later this year, so some catching up has been taking place.
"Last year, overall, there were more than enough applicants to fill places.
"There were 58,000 applicants to the GTTR, of whom 23,700 were accepted. This equates to 2.44 applicants per accepted place."
2% - Overall drop in primary and secondary training applications.