THE case of GCSE students at a Blackburn high school having had seven different maths teachers since Christmas once more highlights the staff shortages that confront education.

But, you know, there isn't really a shortage at all. There are droves of teachers available - on so-called 'supply.'

They form a nomadic, mercenary army of freelances, filling gaps in school staffing levels and exploiting shortages that would not exist if they were all employed in permanent positions.

And they are doing it to some tune - for net wages of around £100 a day while the fees charged by the agencies which farm them out can add another £50 a day to that figure. You don't need a GCSE in maths to work out that it's a set-up that's costing millions of pounds.

Why does a government whose flagship policy is 'education, education, education' tolerate this immense drain on taxpayers' money - above all when often these stop-gap teachers are not qualified in the subjects they are being paid to teach, have little or no rapport with the strangers they are put in charge of, and when many jumped on the early-retirement gravy train when it was going and are now returning to milk the staff shortages they have helped to create?

Isn't this a scandal?

And isn't it unfair on parents that they are forking out a fortune as taxpayers to sustain a situation that by its very improvised nature encourages a lesser quality of education for their children?

The answer, surely, is to stop this hugely expensive and frequently second-best system from feeding off our schools.

How? Slash the rates for supply pay - so that if its current beneficiaries want to earn a living, they must end up in schools as permanent, full-time teachers giving lessons in subjects they do know something about.

Outside the independent sector, our education authorities have a virtual monopoly on teaching jobs in state schools and, so, could well dictate the rates of pay for supply teachers and could lower them at a stroke to end the artificial shortage of teachers that prevails because they are paying these transient 'temps' so much.

The government should trigger that change by letting ruthless market forces apply to the scandal of 'supply' instead of allowing it to hold schools to ransom and jeopardise the education of thousands of youngsters.