How showing off solves bunking off

11th April 2008 at 01:00
My name is Captain Spandex and I hold the secret of eternal staff attendance. The Holy Grail, the wholly staffed school. And I will share it with you, though there is a price.

You see, staff absence recently has been as high as I can remember. If the staff were pupils, many of them would have been fast-tracked and received fixed penalty fines by now.

Every morning, before the mist had lifted from the playground, the trill of the telephone would herald an Oscar-nominated croakiness imparting the bad news of a man down. I have a logbook of excuses - I mean, perfectly legitimate reasons - for staff absence. "My cat hasn't come home all night and I need to find him" and "My drink was spiked at a party last night and I'm in hospital" rank pretty highly. "A flock of ducks was sucked into the one of the plane's engines, so I'm stuck at Ljubljana airport" has top billing at present.

Then, as the clock ticked towards the start of the day, there was the frantic search for a supply teacher with more than a few hours' experience and a fair grasp of the UK education system. Later there would be fallout from an episode with Year 6 and a parental complaint that they had discussed Aussie rules football all day.

But that is now all in the past. The answer is simple: dress-up days.

Last week was superhero week, part of our move to a more creative curriculum. It was all cross-curricular, kinaesthetic stuff. The children were engaged and motivated. It was brilliant. But despite that, there were still staff absences. That was, until Friday: dress-up day.

It had been in the diary for weeks, with staff encouraged to dress as a fictional, contemporary or historical hero. It had provoked much disgruntled muttering.

The day dawned. I pulled on my lycra leggings, strapped on my utility belt and put on my magic helmet of power. I am Captain Spandex. I prayed that I didn't break down on the way to work and expose myself, quite literally, in my alter-ego identity.

At school I sat beside a silent phone, checking that it was plugged into the wall. The day began and there was full staff attendance. Everyone was out in the playground for the bell, including me. We were all in costume, top to toe: wigs, cloaks, make-up, props and exposed flesh, despite the frost. We are all exhibitionists. It's part of why we do what we do.

Later I checked the absence logbook for our other dress-up days. World book day, big boogie day - both had no staff absences.

So I have found the secret of eternal attendance and I have shared it with you. And the price? Simply being prepared to look ridiculous.

I open my diary and begin to pencil in other dress-up days. Monday, vegetable awareness day; Tuesday, extinct creatures day; Wednesday ...

Colin Dowland, Headteacher of a junior school in north London.

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