Reports are most useful when they are clear, honest, constructive and give guidance about the help parents can give to children. Sensitivity to and recognition of individual differences and circumstances is also important.
Parents should be given leaflets telling them what their children are being taught and how they are assessed. These should say what curriculum levels and gradings mean and give national and local figures for comparison.
It is frustrating to receive reports indicating that your child has been having problems for some time but which do not offer suggestions about how parents and teachers can work together to help the child.
Schools need to offer chances to discuss reports, and parents should have a chance to give their views of a child's progress. They will often be different from teachers' views, but this can be resolved through dialogue. Listening to pupils is also important. They often know where they are having difficulty and what help they need.
Laying reports out to provide space for parents' and pupils' comments makes it explicit they are part of a partnership. Including space for targets for the following term or year can provide an agenda for discussion or agreement. In Scotland, reports are required to suggest practical ways in which parents can help their children.
Although time will be an issue, regular, short and concise reporting - formal and informal - is more productive than a time-consuming, once-a- year report and it will be far easier to write a termly or annual report if there have been discussions in between. Problems can then be dealt with early. Parents are less likely to be critical if they have full information. They often know their children are having difficulties but feel unable to explain to teachers. All communication needs to be friendly and supportive.
Parents of children with special needs particularly need reassurance. Putting them in touch with others in similar circumstances can help overcome feelings of isolation. Regular information about progress and achievements, as well as talking about what parents can do, can only help the child.
* Reporting to Parents training package, Warwickshire County Council, EDS Publications, Manor Hall, Sandy Lane, Leamington Spa CV32 6RD, pound;19.50 + pamp;p.
* Home School Policies - a practical guide, Titus Alexander, John Bastiani, Emma Beresford, Jet Publications, 67 Musters Road, Ruddington, Nottingham NG11 6JB, pound;14.95.
* Involving Parents, Alastair Macbeth, Heinemann, pound;17.50.
* Working with Parents, John Bastiani, NFER-Nelson, pound;8.50.
Melian Mansfield is a member of the Campaign for State Education