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The mysterious case of the missing hi-vis jackets…

Something odd is happening at Stephen Petty's school: hi-vis jackets are disappearing by the day. Whodunnit?

Why are hi-vis jackets going missing from Stephen Petty's school?

Something odd is happening at Stephen Petty's school: hi-vis jackets are disappearing by the day. Whodunnit?

There may be weightier crises facing schools, but let’s not forget to record the downright weird stuff going on, too. Most schools have some kind of ongoing abnormality. In our case, it's currently the strange case of the disappearing high-visibility jackets.  

The sleeveless hi-vis is now the required look for teachers strutting their stuff on break duty, though that dress code may soon have to be relaxed around here, given the jackets' steady departure to some other part of the cosmos.  

Old-school staff will just shrug at this. “We used to manage our duties perfectly well without dressing up” says one of them. To some extent, this is true. Nonetheless, it is also true that we are much less likely to be reformatted by a school bus if we are wearing one. Elsewhere, the jacket has given those of us of a shorter stature a newfound sense of shimmering supremacy when patrolling amongst the masses.

No one knows where they are all going. Like board rubbers of old, they disappear without trace. Given their name and appearance, it's an impressive trick.


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They are supposedly borrowed and returned to communal bags around the site, usually in team rooms. Stocks are reportedly running low everywhere. The one in the maths area was the first to be declared empty,  just before Christmas. Other depleted areas seem to be in some kind of hi-vis denial, hoping for a miraculous mass homecoming one day. One hopeful colleague even tied a symbolic yellow jacket around an old oak tree. (Needless to say, that one went, too.)

A hi-vis jacket racket? 

And now comes the real hammer blow to any lingering hi-vis hopes. This week we received the fateful all-staff email from the school’s hi-vis headquarters: apparently, even the famous, centrally controlled “Green Bag” has finally run out of jackets!  It's virtually all over, in other words. The Green Bag was our trusted, hi-vis Bank of England – the one place we could go for a last-minute luminous loan.

Various explanations have been floated, some of them distinctly medieval in tone. One colleague has even pointed the finger at the “gilets jaunes” protesters in France. Admittedly, the spread of hi-vis over there does seem vaguely to coincide with the growing stock crisis at our school, though the evidence seems wafer thin. Yes, a retired, smiling French couple have been staying at a hotel in the town of late, and yes they did arrive with a big case, but really…

Besides, it seems more than just chance that the hi-vis saga has coincided with a similar steady disappearance of every single staffroom teaspoon. Yes, as if news of the Green Bag’s collapse wasn’t shocking enough, we have all just received another bombshell. Apparently the 50 new staffroom teaspoons – only put there in September for goodness' sake – “have now all gone. We have reached breaking-point.” Anyone with an accumulation of teaspoons has been asked to return them. Some chance.

Rather than blaming innocent French tourists, we probably need to acknowledge one of two less comfortable but more likely explanations for all of this. We either face up to the fact that many of our colleagues must have some peculiar private habit involving hi-vis jackets and the use of the odd teaspoon, or we simply accept that our school really is in the hands of dark, supernatural forces. It’s hard to decide which one is preferable.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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