SHORT of a coffee-maker for the staffroom and having trouble finding teachers, then why not use one problem to solve the other?
That's the deal being offered by one of the country's leading supply teacher agencies which has its own supermarket-style loyalty reward scheme. Every pound;500 spent with Spring Education earns a point. And points mean prizes, ranging from toasters and catering-sized kettles to DVD players and camcorders.
Ministers may insist there is no teacher shortage crisis, but the biggest agencies, such as Spring, are known to be turning over more than pound;1 million a month.
For just 15 points, after spending pound;7,500, you can get a coffee-maker. Double your points and you qualify for the stainless steel four-slice toaster. Spend pound;30,000 and earn 60 points and you qualify for the BT answer machine with 13 number autodialler - vital for taking messages from teachers ringing in sick, and pre-programming overused agency numbers. For the pound;50,000-plus spenders, there's a rotating whiteboard for 100 points; pound;100,000 will get you a Sony 21-inch TV with remote control and sleep-timer.
Near the top of the range is the Panasonic compact VHS video recorder, complete with carry case and atteries for 280 points or pound;140,000. One school has spent 900 points (pound;450,000) on a video projector, which can project from a laptop to a screen.
Colin Taylor, marketing director of Spring, said: "This is not intended to make any more money but to reward them for what they do spend. We want to put something back into the business."
Recruitment analyst John Howson estimates schools are now spending more than pound;600m annually on supply teachers - with businesses creaming off around pound;200m of this.
His calculations are based on 20,000 supply teachers, earning an average daily wage of pound;160 for the 190-day teaching year. The cost of employing the same number of teachers full-time on a salary of pound;21,000 would be pound;420m, leaving a difference between that and money paid to supply agencies of some pound;188m.
Spring's reward scheme, with its glossy brochure featuring 18 prizes, brings a classic retailing marketing tactic into the education business. Professor Howson said: "It's green shield stamps for the 21st century."
David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This just shows the desperate straits we have got ourselves in over teacher supply. You can't criticise Spring for its incentives scheme when we are in such a highly competitive market-place."