'School reports are out of control – 1,000-word missives of meaningless information'

13th June 2016 at 12:02
teachers consider leaving
TES columnist Michael Tidd explains why the days of the modern school report should be over

The Whitsun holiday, now a distant memory, has traditionally become a time for forgoing any family fun and day trips – and instead ploughing through the reports, getting them out of the way before returning for the final half term.

And what a way to spend a half term! Trying to find the right words to explain that Caleb has been a damned nuisance all year, and that his parents haven’t helped matters; looking for 30 different ways to say nothing at all about design & technology, because we can’t remember the last time we did any; desperately trying to find enough things to say about that child whose name it took you until November to recall – it’s a minefield.

And to what end? I find myself wondering how much of it ever gets read and how much is actually useful. For everything seems to have conspired over the past 30 years to add more and more to the report-writing workload, while providing less and less useful information to parents.

My own middle school report from the last of those pre-national curriculum days contains just over 150 words in total. And it probably says as much as any modern-day tome: my language use was good, handwriting was not, good grasp of maths and behaves in the classroom. What more does a parent want to know?

Pointless reporting

A school report has turned from the pleasant brevity of a greetings card to the cringeworthy waffle that forms those awful round-robin letters at Christmas. It’s a fairly small step from “Robert has studied the Vikings this year and is able to describe some key events of the period” to “Robert has joined the local crafting guild this year and is now the treasurer – we’re so proud!”

Perhaps the arrival of the word processor has led us down this verbose path? Perhaps it’s the rise of the senior leader who dictates the format of reports, without actually having to write them? Maybe it’s just the relative ease of photocopying these days? But certainly, it seems that we’d do well to look again at the purpose of what we write.

Parents must know much of this stuff already. Do we really think we’re telling parents something new when we point out that their child is an avid reader, or doesn’t always complete their homework? Is it particularly worth noting for posterity that Annaliese improvises with confidence during music lessons?

Ask any parent what they want to know about their child’s progress in a year, and it’s very unlikely to look anything like the lengthy reports we produce each year.

If the 1,000-word missives were to go, would anyone miss them?

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire

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