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Shaken, stirred but dressed up

David Thomas finds reactions to his appearance vary from delight to ridicule - but then he can look like Pierce Brosnan or a one-ton red elephant wearing a fireman's helmet

I have dressed up as many things in my time as both a teacher and head. As a result I have sometimes felt suave and handsome, and sometimes desperately stupid. My costumes have ranged from James Bond to a Victorian inspector's. I have been a cowboy, a Viking, a Saxon, a policeman and a fireman. During a circus week I once organised, I was a fully paid-up clown.

At Hallowe'en I have been a very convincing Dracula. (No different from a staff meeting, I heard them muttering behind the staffroom door.) I was reminded of the number of times that any teacher, especially in a primary school, will don a fancy dress outfit when I read a piece about how the best teachers are those who know how to put on a performance. Any school worthy of the name has an annual book week, when dressing up is compulsory. Statistics show the favourite character is Captain Hook.

I have to say, though, that it was while dressed as James Bond in white jacket and frilly shirt that I felt quite stunning. I don't mind saying (with some modesty) that I'm a pretty good-looking cove - most of the time, anyway. But in evening dress, people tell me I'm irresistible (and who am I to argue?): on this occasion, a mixture of Pierce Brosnan and Burt Reynolds, I'm told. A long-legged mum in short skirt asked could she be my Pussy Galore. For once I was left quipless and hurried along the corridor mumbling something about being on my way to a literacy meeting.

It was in York in the precinct outside the Jorvik Centre that I dressed as a Viking, along with all my kids. My knobbly knees were photographed by legions of Japanese and American tourists. Fortunately, my tunic wasn't quite as short as the skimpy thing worn by Tony Curtis in that Viking film where he has his hand chopped off and Kirk Douglas has an eye pulled out.

All this was as nothing, though, compared to the day I achieved greatness dressed as an elephant. It was on this day that I realised there was nothing left for me to achieve as a head. Dressing as a tusker was the pinnacle.

For some heads it is balancing the dinner books. For others it is a good Ofsted report. For me it was the day I was transformed into Welephant.

Welephant was a creature carted round by a bloke from the fire brigade many years ago, whose function was to convince pupils that larking about with matches was not a good thing. Alas for me, the elephant half of the team did not arrive on the day I had them booked into the school. I knew what was coming as soon as Fireman Sam had finished lugging this ton-weight costume into school and then looked at me. I should have said "Bollocks". Instead, I reluctantly agreed to get inside this ridiculous outfit. P> "Leave all the chat to me. You just grunt and nod your head every now and then. Don't do anything fancy."

How could I? Dressed in a woolly red costume, with a curly tail at the back, large black wellies, little mittens, and huge elephant's head with a yellow helmet on top, it was all I could do to stagger around, panting and sweating buckets. My hour-long performance over, I wobbled to the office to change and felt ill for days. But a few weeks later, Fireman Sam called up. He was at the school just down the road, again minus the elephant half.

"Listen," he began, "the head here won't dress up, doesn't see the funny side. I was wondering..." He got no further. This time I did say the word I should have said earlier.

I don't want to put anyone off teaching, but a willingness to dress up is essential. The spin-offs are several. There is the sense of light relief from vision statements, performance management, literacy and numeracy hours, assessments, record-keeping and all the other initiatives fired at you every day.

Staffrooms assume a gaiety and a lightheadedness not seen since the 1960s, when schools were full of giant box sculptures, potted plants, and smiley faces and the sun shone brightly every day.

There is the opportunity to see the head, normally snowed under by the combined weight of responsibility, accountability and miserability, in a new, carefree vein. In short, dressing up for a day gives us all the chance to say stuff the job and the Dfee, for just a few brief, bubbly hours.

That apart, there is also a serious and positive spin-off. Dressing up in costume would have helped you make a better threshold application - and still could do so in the future. Look at the headings on the form. Doesn't dressing up come into the area of using a range of strategies in your teaching? Doesn't dressing up inspire your pupils to achieve well? Isn't dressing up part of professional development? In section five of the form you can really go to town.

You will inspire trust and confidence dressed as Father Christmas. You will engage and motivate your pupils if you dress up as Batman.

Dressing up as a clown is certainly a positive step guaranteed to improve quality of learning.

To build team commitment I suggest you, as a whole staff, dress up as the England football team, or the Spice Girls, or the Village People. Or ... I could go on at length here.

And for analytical thinking, who else but Einstein, or perhaps TV detective Inspector Morse?

I retired from headship four years ago and now visit various schools as a supply teacher. On my travels I have seen that the happiest days have been dressing-up days, when the sound of hysterics and happy banter has always been loudest. They are a reminder of times gone by and long-gone jolly staffrooms.

David Thomas lives in Leeds

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