West Lothian has taken the unprecedented step of offering "golden hello" packages to teachers, sparking fears of an auction in which authorities vie to outbid each other. The council's move coincides with a survey of secondary heads which suggests that some schools are being forced to skew their timetables to get round the problem.
The Headteachers' Association of Scotland said the scarcity of teachers and supply staff in key subject areas was forcing some schools to distort the curriculum "simply to have a teacher in front of the class and have pupils doing useful work".
It reports one school in north-east Scotland removing craft, design and technology from the curriculum in S1, home economics in S2 and technological studies in S5-S6, while reducing science by 25 per cent in S1-S2.
Another central Scotland school reported that drama had been replaced by German, home economics had replaced computing and geography had been replaced by religious and moral education.
Yet another school in the same authority planned to reduce S1-S2 English by 40 per cent to the minimum required time taught by a subject specialist.
The HAS said that teacher shortages were so serious that many of the new recruits planned for by the Scottish Executive over the next three years would have to be used to fill current vacancies, rather than to reduce class sizes as planned.
It also said that some schools were having to readvertise several times before receiving a single application and that, increasingly, applications were coming from teachers who had been trained outside Scotland and were not registered. Qualified supply staff were also in shorter supply.
Lindsay Roy, the association's president, warned that teaching quality and therefore the drive to boost school improvement could be at risk. Contrary to claims by the Scottish Executive, teacher shortages were not localised but represented a national recruitment problem covering most subject areas to a greater or lesser extent, Mr Roy said.
An Executive spokeswoman said the most recent statistics on vacancy figures do not show a picture of widespread shortages. For example, Glasgow is reporting a vacancy level of 1.4 per cent of the secondary teacher workforce, which was not unusual at this time of the year.
"There is no current difficulty in filling spaces on teacher training courses and, at a time when pupil numbers are falling and projected to do so, we are actually increasing the number of teachers in Scottish schools."
West Lothian's incentives involve a lump sum of pound;2,500 for all class teachers appointed to permanent posts next session, as well as a rentlodging allowance of up to pound;350 a month for six months if they move into the area.
The authority has offered existing staff pound;50 shopping vouchers if they recommend a friend. It is also holding open days in a number of its schools next week to try to attract former teachers back into the profession.
However, Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, warned that the plan could start a bidding auction. "The ultimate logical conclusion is that it could lead to localised local authority by local authority pay bargaining which we have always resisted," Mr Smith said.
Instead of offering one-off payments, local authorities should be working harder at being good employers. "That will do as much as anything to entice employees."
Colin Dalrymple, general secretary of the Association of Directors of Education in Scotland, said he was not convinced that other authorities would seek to emulate West Lothian.