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Could do better?

Writing reports is a skill that demands practice. Hone your technique with some tips from Sara Bubb

The Easter hols and the first half of the summer term can lull you into a false sense of professional wellbeing. Everything seems so much better, more manageable - and then along come reports. I don't want to alarm you, but they are the most important documents you write as a teacher.

They're read over and over again, passed around families and friends, and kept for posterity. What you write will last forever, and may come back to haunt you. One of your pupils could become famous - or infamous.

Speak to your induction tutor about what's required: find out if there's a computer program, who will work out the attendance figures, how much detail to write. I know of schools that take a minimalist approach, but others require a lengthy paragraph on each subject. Ask pupils to write a self-assessment: what they're good at, have enjoyed, need to improve. Their information will help you make one or two personal points that give a flavour of the individual.

Getting into the style of report writing is a skill. You need to build up a bank of useful phrases, particularly ones that express criticism positively. Read last year's reports and talk to other teachers to see how you can be honest and positive. Phrases such as "She produces good work when she applies effort" sound better than "She's bone idle". Remember, your dreaded pupil is someone's baby.

Reports take a long time to write. Don't be deceived by computer programs; the process still takes ages. The first five will probably average out to two hours each, the next 20 will average one hour each, and the last five might get knocked off in half an hour. Grammatical and spelling errors are a no-no. So, about 40 hours of extra work that will have to get squeezed in by mid-June. Booked a holiday for half-term? I hope not.

Where are you going to find 40 hours? Cut down on your social life? There probably isn't much to cut. Sleep? Impossible. No, you're going to have to cut down on other work. Planning and marking will have to be done more quickly. And you'll have to be focused - no getting distracted by the phone, emails, or the kitchen floor that needs washing.

Draw up a timetable of when you're going to do them. Pace yourself; they're not something you can knock off in a rush. If you give yourself an objective concerning reports, you can justifiably spend some of your 10 per cent reduced timetable writing them. Ask the head if you can spend the time at home; you'll probably get more done.

Choose a straightforward child to write about first to get you into the swing, but show it to a senior staff member for approval before doing the rest. One NQT wrote his reports at half-term but had to rewrite them because they weren't good enough - and he'd done them by hand. Build rewards into your schedule; anything to make you stick to it.

The sense of achievement and relief when they're all done is fantastic.

You'll really deserve - and need - that summer holiday.

Sara Bubb's The Insider's Guide for New Teachers: succeed in training and induction will be published by The TESKogan Page in June

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