27th June 1997 at 01:00
It seemed a good idea at the time. Faced with attendance running at an alarming 72 per cent, Stoke head Len Wild offered Pounds 100 to any of his secondary school pupils who went through all five years without a single day off.

Two years later and he's already Pounds 400 out of pocket, with the prospect of more to come. Three of Mitchell High School's year 10 already have 100 per cent records.

The money - out of his own pay packet - is bad enough. But there's more. Born with a tendency for his mouth to run away with him, he revealed the offer live on Radio Stoke last week in a debate on truancy. That, unfortunately, was the first his wife knew about it.

But a promise is a promise: "They've come through hail, rain and snow without a day off. They've earned every penny.

"If the fat cats of industry can be rewarded with huge salaries for performance, why can't pupils?" Or, indeed, heads. Attendance at Mitchell is already up to 86 per cent. The offer was off-the-cuff to start with. A reward system - record tokens, trips to Alton Towers, that sort of thing - seemed a good way to motivate pupils to attend. Then, reasoning a reward system was no good if pupils didn't want the reward, Mr Wild asked them what they really wanted. The answer? "Money".

Mr Wild is nothing if not an opportunist and is now busy turning pain to gain by looking for sponsorship. "Perhaps the Times Ed would care to donate 50 quid . . .?" Oops. Carborundum seems to have come out without the Diary's wallet.

Tony Banks, the Minister for Sport who thinks ballroom dancing and darts should have Olympic status, is a Good Thing and should be encouraged. Carborundum is entirely convinced of this since being told of his stunning performance at a local government conference, Child's Play, held just before the election.

Mr Banks was holding forth before an audience of 200 people when a mobile phone began ringing insistently from the depths of a delegate's briefcase. Mr Banks stopped speaking and watched with interest from the podium as the owner of the offending apparatus fumbled to retrieve it, muttered a few words and stashed it away once again. Silence restored once more, Mr Banks commented cheerfully: "I paused only to maximise your embarrassment."

Constructive pragmatism is the order of the day in sunny Croydon, the South London borough so overendowed with 1950s Dallas-style office blocks that there is a move to list the whole lot.

Finally, after something like 18 months, a convenient formula has been found to actually fill the vacant teacher's seat on the education committee - but it has taken manoeuvres worthy of the great Peter Mandelson to achieve this.

A swift recapitulation is in order. Donkey's years ago, the borough's education committee was taken to court by the teaching unions for failing to co-opt a teacher or similar bod to join in the deliberations. Croydon's argument - that teachers were represented on the subcommittees through which all matters were filtered before finding their way to the main committee - was accepted by the court and there matters rested.

Three years ago, Labour took control of the council and invited the unions to elect a representative. This they did, a National Union of Teachers member turning up assiduously until maternity leave forced her to stop more than 18 months ago. So out went another invitation to the unions to nominate an interested body.

Next week, Louise Woodley, the successful candidate, will take her place on the committee for the first time. The delay? The story doing the rounds in South London was that the Nasuwt told the committee that the various sub-committee union members would take it in turns to fill the empty seat. Unfortunately the National Union of Teachers got wind of this and did not agree, being the biggest union in the borough, and so another way had to be found.

And so it has. Stalemate ended when it was decided to go for OTOV (one teacher, one vote) rather than another placeman. The NUT, being the biggest union in the borough, did not object to this. Readers may not be surprised to discover that Ms Woodley stressed her record as an NUT activist and got half the overall vote. Jolly sensible.

Strange influences are at work in the cosmopolitan world of further education. Lecturers at Lewisham college, anxious to shed their elbow-patch image, have bashfully revealed their reading matter in an in-house survey.

Academic tomes by the likes of Nick 'Fever Pitch' Hornby, Irvine 'Trainspotting' Welch, journalist Hunter S Thompson, Tom 'Wilt' Sharpe and L Ron 'Scientology' Hubbard loomed large in a list of books which have influenced male staff.

How did this emerge? During the right-on college's Men's Week, of course. Fitness, health and the thorny question of "male image" were much in evidence, but the traditional beer 'n' fags emerged only through the reading matter. At least they didn't build a sweat lodge or bang any drums.

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