Primary schools face a looming recruitment crisis as applications to teacher training courses plummet, experts warn today.
Research by an independent think-tank set up by education company Pearson shows that applications have fallen by 17 per cent this year, at a time when a bulge in the birth rate means there will be eight per cent more pupils in primary schools and nurseries within the next three years.
The researchers pin the blame for the drop-off in numbers on the rising cost of university tuition and the Government's decision to raise the entry requirements for would-be teachers, with the result that those with a third degree pass no longer receive funding to train.
The researchers also say the drop in applications has coincided with a fall in morale among those already in the profession, largely as a result of government reforms and tougher criteria for school inspections, which will be adopted from this September by Ofsted, the education standards watchdog.
In a survey of headteachers, one in four said it had been more difficult to recruit teaching staff this year than last, while 55 per cent said morale in the profession was poor or worse. Only 10 per cent said it was good or better.
Professor John Howson, who carried out the research, said the findings revealed "a perfect storm of falling teacher-training applications, low staff morale and rapidly rising pupil numbers" that could "create a future teacher workforce crisis in primary schools".
"The Government needs to take urgent steps now, including higher bursaries for primary initial teacher education courses, to avoid a crisis which would impact on the education of thousands of pupils," he added.
The research, based on figures supplied by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas), showed that those areas of teaching which offer high bursaries to offset the cost of fees were holding up best in terms of recruitment. Physics teaching, for which bursaries of up to £20,000 are available, has seen a 19 per cent improvement in recruitment.
The Department for Education denied there was a problem, saying: "Talk of a crisis couldn't be further from the truth. Every primary school will be able to recruit the number of high-quality teachers it needs."
The number accepted on to primary school courses this year has risen by 1 per cent. Postgraduate acceptances were up by 9 per cent.
The research authors said this did not reflect the potential future impact of falling application numbers.
23,500 pupils skip class on typical day
Thousands of primary school pupils missed lessons without permission on each day of spring term this year, figures show.
The Department for Education says 0.7 per cent of school sessions were missed by, up from 0.6 per cent for the same term in 2011 due to "unauthorised absence". Almost 23,400 youngsters in England's primary schools skipped classes on a typical day during the spring term through truancy, family holidays, illness and other reasons.