School was on red alert the other morning. Members of the SLT were darting around anxiously. The paths were swept, no trace of any litter, fresh flowers were in the foyer. Two senior-student heavies were standing there in suits, hands clasped respectfully, like waiters at a wedding reception.
Was royalty coming? A surprise visit from an education minister perhaps? Ofsted? No, nobody as trifling as that. The cause for the exceptional fervour and anticipation was that the school was awaiting the arrival of a prospective MATHS TEACHER for a job interview.
These people are now so scarce they have overtaken gold as the most valuable commodity on earth. When the world economy next goes into meltdown, the anxious investor will no longer shift their assets into gold as the safe haven. It will be all about holding an option on a few ounces of maths teacher.
Despite this, we still hear of some schools where they actually let maths-teacher job candidates wander freely around the site like normal people. Do they not realise that these precious figures are now the subject of major heists and kidnappings, usually masterminded by some desperate predatory head whose supply of mathematicians has run completely dry?
Our school was certainly taking no risks with its prospective new recruit. Ostensibly, the senior students were there to escort him on the usual “introductory tour” of the site, but we all knew their real brief – to stop anyone swooping and taking him away.
Maths teachers at risk of abduction
But were his two minders aware of some of the more devious forms of maths-teacher abduction? It’s not always as crude as another head’s henchman coming on to the site and snatching the candidate. Rival heads can be much more devious. They could try instead, on interview day, to sweep our precious new find away with some sweet-talking, promise-filled phone call. Indeed, as he headed off on his tour, I swear two phones in his pockets were lighting up and vibrating. Our candidate might be off at any moment, seduced by a better offer.
As for our school’s existing precious bullion of maths teachers, the time has surely come to secure them much more tightly. They may have families, but there must be no more going home. We need to round them up each night inside the maths centre, make it our Fort Knox. These are desperate times, and I suspect things will get worse before they get better.
The frantic prospecting for maths (and other shortage) teachers will continue for years. It is like gold-rush California and Klondike, complete with all the accompanying tales of human greed, futility and indignity. The worry is that – far from us doing something about the mines running dry – the whole problem still appears to be in the hands of Klondike Pete, who is happy to offer golden nuggets of hope, rather than anything that will genuinely change things. I hope I am proved wrong, and soon.
Jo Brighouse is taking a well-earned break. Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire