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Tall tales

No conference could fail with the presence of the tallest men in Scottish education, Kenny Dykes, head of Barrhead High, and Cameron Munro, director of the Jordanhill truancy unit (sorry, the Scottish Initiative on Attendance, Absence and Attainment). Dykes, as someone observed, "is the only man in Scotland able to get a bird's-eye view of Cameron Munro". Or, as he said himself: "At 6ft 7in you can get away with quite a lot."

He's learnt at Barrhead to be content with small beginnings. One parent who remarked that he must be pleased with her son's 80 per cent attendance said: "He's never had 80 per cent for anything in his life." But Dykes is not easily impressed. "That's eight weeks off school," he declared.

Then there was the parent who hit on what she thought was an effective strategy. "I found out William was truanting on Monday, so I kept him off for the rest of the week so he wouldn't do it again."

Dykes revealed he has a secret weapon apart from his height - a mobile phone to contact any parent the guidance staff have been unable to track down over unexplained absences. "I've never had a violent reaction yet," he says with only a hint of apprehension.

His ruse sends out two messages, he says. "Parents think, 'that heidie ain't half organised: he actually notices when the kids are missing'; and 'isn't it nice he got in touch to see how the wean was'."

Apart from putting the phone to his ear, Dykes likes to keep his ear to the ground. He is a "school gates heidie", keeping a watchful eye on comings and goings. "I've never seen a drugs runner yet," he confesses. But there was one occasion when I saw a suspicious looking character standing across the road. So after eyeing each other for a while, I went over and demanded to know what he was doing there.

"'My wife's a cleaner at your school and I'm waiting to pick her up,' he said."

Nice to know we've got security-conscious heidies.

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