It is 9am on Monday, the school hall is crowded with children and the buzzing is barely controlled. But up on the stage are 35 empty chairs and just five adults the head, the chair of governors, miserable Mr Bickerdyke, the PE master, who looks even more miserable this morning, Mr Plumtree, the RE specialist, and that newly-qualified teacher who joined a fortnight ago.
The head rises, and as the hall quietens, begins to speak: "Many of you will know that last week was a roll-over week on the National Lottery, with a total jackpot of just over Pounds 40 million. It appears that the only winning ticket was entered by a syndicate of teachers at this school. This morning I received a fax from Florida, sent by the head of maths on behalf of the syndicate. She informs me that all 35 members are investing in a condominium in Miami, and that none will be returning to Britain. As a result, until the education authority, the governors and I can arrange replacements, school is suspended. " (The rest of the statement is drowned in loud cheers.) It hasn't happened yet, of course, though at least one school, in the Midlands, is among the 200 organisations that have already taken out insurance with a company in Yorkshire against its staff winning the lottery jackpot and disappearing en masse over the horizon. Only last September a group of Lincolnshire school cleaners won a very pleasant Pounds 963,820 on the National Lottery, which doubtless brought to an end most of their careers in mopping and polishing.
Anti-win insurance, or to give it its proper name, National Lottery Additional Expenses Insurance, has been set up by Fielding Mann, an insurance broker based in Leeds. It will pay out up to Pounds 300,000 to any organisation that loses key workers because the staff syndicate has won the big one.
For the syndicate members themselves, however, the lottery presents other hazards. By joining a syndicate you certainly improve your odds of winning the top prize from the basic 13,983,816:1, but you also multiply the chances of serious disagreements over the sharing out of any winnings.
So how should you set up a staffroom syndicate in order to make it squabble-proof?
Both Camelot, the company that runs the National Lottery, and the pools operators issue guidelines to anybody wishing to set up a syndicate among work colleagues, friends and relations. Getting an agreement signed by all participants is, as Camelot points out, highly advisable financially. Both the pools companies and the National Lottery will only pay out to one named individual. It is quite possible that without a signed agreement on how the prizes should be divided, the Inland Revenue could make a claim for inheritance tax on any shared-out winnings.
Camelot suggests that one person should be appointed manager of the group, to be responsible for purchasing the tickets and collecting and dividing any prize money. It is that person whose name should appear on the back of the tickets, and who would be the named individual that any lottery cheque would be made out to.
The group needs to draw up an agreement which shows:
* the date the agreement was made
* the names of group members
* the name of the group manager
* how the numbers for the group's lottery entry will be selected (that is, randomly each week or an unchanging set)
* how much each group member will pay towards purchasing tickets each week and that person's corresponding percentage share of any winnings
* what happens if any member fails to pay their contribution at any time
* how group members will decide whether or not they want publicity should they have a really big win.
Camelot says the agreement should be signed and dated by each member of the syndicate, and witnessed by a solicitor, doctor or "someone of similar standing". If the group changes, a new agreement should be drawn up, and copies given to each member, with the original kept in a safe place. However money is collected from members, the group manager should keep a record of who has paid what and when.
It is also a good idea, Camelot emphasises, to make it clear from the start what happens if any member cannot pay in a particular week, for whatever reason. Should they get nothing at all if the group wins that week, or a smaller percentage of the prize than those who paid up?
Littlewoods encourages pools syndicates with the promise of a 66 per cent bonus on all prizes paid to group entries. It has pre-printed syndicate entry registers, with spaces to record the names of syndicate members, how much they should pay each week, and tick-boxes to show they have paid up. The registers are available from pools collectors.
One school that runs a joint pools entry among staff is Kilsby primary, in Northamptonshire. The headteacher, Tim Rose, 47, is realistic about their motives: "We're not in it to win, but to dream." Each of the five syndicate members pays Pounds 1 a week, and each has the right to pick some of the numbers used on the pools coupon. An agreement has been signed by everybody on how the winnings should be divided, and that, and the week's numbers, are displayed on the wall in the staffroom.
The syndicate has been running for three years and has so far won not a penny. But Mr Rose knows what he would do with his share of any jackpot: "I'd pay for a teacher to take my classes, so I could then do the job of headteacher properly!"