Hard-up academics are being lured from the lecture hall to the classroom to help schools cope with teacher shortages.
Teacher supply agency Teaching Personnel said that with an estimated 10,000 teacher vacancies, it had no option but to target lecturers. It is possible that other teacher supply agencies will follow suit.
Lecturers can earn about £100 a day in schools, depending on the area, compared with about £80 a day in a typical higher education institution. In addition, lecturers are being offered a £100 bonus for introducing others to the agency.
Teaching Personnel has sent more than 100,000 letters to lecturers. It hopes that at least 2 per cent of recipients will respond.
In its letter, the agency said that the government had in effect given the go-ahead to recruit lecturers as school teachers. The agency based this on its interpretation of a Department for Education and Employment circular issued to schools in 1996.
While the circular does not explicitly mention lecturers, it does appear to permit the employment of a person as a teacher if they have "special qualifications or experience" and when "no suitable qualified teacher, licensed teacher or overseas-trained teacher is available".
Gavin Donnelly, director of Teaching Personnel, said: "Higher education is a new step. We just cannot recruit enough teachers to satisfy demand, and this government guidance allows us to give schools an option."
Mr Donnelly said that the lecturers it is seeking do not have to have qualified teacher status but must have been lecturing within the past year. Schools would be told if any lecturers offered as supply teachers lacked qualified teacher status.
A spokesman for the DFEE told The THES that he was unaware of any departmental guidance condoning the recruitment of lecturers to teach in schools.
He said: "It is not something we condone. We would not want people poached from one sector to another but, then, supply agencies are independent companies."
He said that if lecturers were to teach in schools they would need a teaching qualification and to have qualified teacher status.
• Applications to train to teach shortage subjects are shooting up, according to statistics from the Graduate Teacher Training Registry. Numbers applying for PGCE courses in maths, sciences and information technology have all shown big increases. The biggest winner is IT, where applications are up by 115 per cent over last year.
Chemistry is up 38 per cent, design and technology 37 per cent, physics 23 per cent and maths 11 per cent. The only subject to show a big fall is German, down 20 per cent.
Total numbers applying for PGCE courses in primary and secondary rose by 17 per cent.