Alphabetical order? Girls first? Surnames or first names? And how are the kids expected to answer? "Sir", "Here" or "Yeah"?
A list of names has been aregister since the 14th century, perhaps accounting for the obsession with neat copperplate. Orderly handwritten columns set against a herringbone sea of attendance marks are the benchmark - and woe betide the hapless fool who splodges the absence circles or gets the kids' names back to front.
In hi-tech schools, it's done with a gadget that records the kids'
attendance and beams the results up to the office. In some it's done with a clipboard thingy: the teacher marks the names then waves the board at a receiver on the ceiling. In others, kids carry a swipe card: registration happens as they cram through turnstiles on their way in.
But neither method solves the essential problem: are the kids there? According to Charlene, a normally reliable source of information about everything non-academic, Wayne is with Mr Jones (again) and Tracey is on the bog. So they're present?
Meanwhile, Dwayne, 6ft 4in of ill-concealed attitude, comes through the door just after his name is called.
"Late," you say, drawing a red circle and placing an L inside it.
"But I'm 'ere," he growls.
Old hands will avoid a metaphysical discussion about states of reality by pointing at the mark. "Not according to this," they retort, thus instilling in Dwayne a lifetime contempt for bureaucracy. The inexperienced will replace the circle with a black diagonal. Dwayne might be happy, but in the school office Mrs Tightly-Clenched will write you off as a bungling oaf.
Every red circle has to be accounted for. When Tracey's mum takes her shopping for new shoes, she can be either ill (N), on a course (C) or truanting (T). Since the latter ends up being published and Ofsteded there's a strong institutional temptation to see the shopping expedition as educational in its widest sense.
Tracey's mum may solve the problem by not sending in a note. But notes deserve a column all to themselves.