VICKY Tuck, principal of Cheltenham Ladies' College, has made some of her best-ever appointments for the new school year, but she was forced to re-advertise to get them.
"You have got to hold your nerve," said Mrs Tuck, who had to find 18 new staff for this term. "The important thing is not to compromise, and to re-advertise if necessary. I am just so glad I didn't go for the best of the rest," said the principal of the college, alma mater of dress designer Katherine Hamnet.
Hers is one of a number of top private schools reporting smaller fields of candidates for posts. Others include Roedean, in East Sussex and Stowe, in Buckinghamshire.
They are worried not only about attracting teachers but also keeping them. Patricia Metham, head of Roedean, said: "Retention is the real issue. It's partly money, but not predominantly. There is a real issue of morale. The degree of bureaucracy and the extent to which legislation increasingly seems to assume that teachers are not capable of being independent professionals is a disincentive. People get fed up."
Less well-known private schools face worse problems. "There is a timebomb ticking away," said Nick Dorey, head of Bethany school in Goudhurst, Kent, a mixed day and boarding school of 320 pupils.
A year ago, The TES reported that disenchanted state teachers were flocking to the private sector, even though it often meant a pay cut. Mr Dorey said, although wealthy public schools could pay the same as or more than the state sector, the rest were struggling to keep up. "I am very frightened by the number of schools that are not paying the new (state sector) pay scales," he said.
Founded in 1866, Bethany does pay the going rate. Like other boarding schools in high-cost housing areas it is also considering increasing the accommodation it can offer new teachers.
Mr Dorey made three "excellent" appointments for this term, with the smallest field (12) in languages. But he added: "There is no doubt that the number and quality of applicants is declining." Other private-school heads are resorting to incentives all too familiar to their state colleagues such as refresher courses for former teachers, training graduates on the job, and pay bonuses.
However, some private schools like Maynard, a girls' school in Exeter said they were "awash with applications".