It's 10am and a couple of well-tailored senior managers, a man and a woman, are ushered into the room to give their presentation. They've got just 15 minutes to make their case. Mere seconds are devoted to introductions and, standing tall behind a lectern, the woman glides professionally into her sales pitch. Behind her, silently, her colleague checks the smoothly produced and seductively written brochures that'll be handed out when they finish. The patter is crisp but not cliched, efficient not effusive...
"Peterborough is a very conveniently located city, with excellent communications to London and much of the rest of the country. House prices are reasonable and the local economy is vibrant..."
Is this a government delegation trying to attract inward investment from potential German or Japanese investors? No. It's the head and deputy of a Peterborough comprehensive trying to recruit teachers for next September, and I am among the 80 trainees at my west London college being targeted.
It's a sign of the times, and the lengths schools are having to go to in order to fill vacancies, that pre-emptive strikes like this are now being made. And this school has come with financial carrots to dangle: a relocation grant of pounds 1,000 and, for recruits from outside the UK, free flights home during the first year of employment.
For us trainees, the teacher shortage is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it's comforting to know we'll have little difficulty getting jobs. Several of my maths colleagues, myself included, were offered jobs last autumn, scarcely before we'd set foot in a classroom, and those with other shortage subjects are similarly sought after. But, peering just over the horizon, we don't, in a year or two's time, want to be working in schools struggling to fill posts.
Having completed my first block practice before Christmas, it's now time to visit school number two, another big, mixed Home Counties comprehensive. It's here, from half-term until May, that I'll be teaching almost full- time. If I can survive this place intact, and hone my so far roughly hewn teaching skills, I'll have the PGCE year as good as cracked. So it's with pretty keen eyes that I take in my new surroundings, and the blue-uniformed teenagers who've replaced the mud-brown-clad herd I left in December. First impressions suggest a slightly more comfortable catchment area.
Space is plentiful, classrooms are generally well-appointed and computers are in abundant supply. One room has 31 PCs, and an interactive whiteboard at the front. Sports facilities are impressive. Cricket is a strength here, and, judging by the school team badges lined up on countless blazer lapels seen in corridors, so are athletics, football and basketball to name but three. The textiles department, to my totally untutored eye, looks high-class as well. T-shirts with innovative designs are being silk screen- printed by a Year 8 class, and there's a buzz of creativity and flair.
Like all schools, this one has a Special Educational Needs department, responsible for monitoring and giving extra support to pupils with particular weaknesses, medical conditions or behavioural problems. About 15 per cent of the kids here have been so identified. At my previous school it was 30 per cent, and in many inner-city schools the proportion can be higher.
A week later
It's time to teach my first lesson in this school. More algebra, I'm afraid. Don't the kids just love it? Well, not really, but you can't get far in maths without it, so it's central to the curriculum. Walking into the classroom isn't as intimidating as when I was blooded for the first time back in October, but still, in a new school, a little nerve-wracking.
I don't know any names, so I get these students to make little folded paper signs on their desks to help me. …