A veil over the truth versus straight talking

12th May 2006 at 01:00
Don't you just love this time of year? The days get warmer, the evenings get lighter and next year's development plan gets to the stage where it cannot be ignored any longer.

A series of hoops must be jumped through in the planning process, including evaluation of the current session. Luckily, this involves internal evaluation of success, based on previously agreed criteria, and does not usually demand much blood-letting.

External evaluation of success can be quite a different matter. I felt for the officer whose behaviour was not only found to be somewhat lacking but who also had it broadcast in a widely circulated letter: "This kind of performance and appalling attitude is not acceptable with the culture of mutual courtesy and high performance which we seek to achieve and needs to be dealt with accordingly."

Dinna haud back!

I defy anyone to match teachers' skill in sending coded messages in their annual reports to parents. It would be easy to wax lyrical about "lovely"

3-year-olds but much better to identify early signs of potential future discord. I wonder if certain Prime Ministers' infant behaviour earned observations such as "has lots of self-confidence and likes to do things independently" and "can get upset at times if he can't play with something someone else has".

Such personality traits can be tracked up to P7 and are still evident in reports. Alarm bells should ring for secondary staff over comments such as "is developing skills to listen and accept the opinions of others" and "feels the need to act in an immature manner to impress his peers".

Before we had the benefit of technology, when reports were handwritten, one of my teachers once spelled "rhythm" in every conceivable erroneous way, occasionally adding an "n", and practically doubled her workload as a result. No child in her class was ever again reported to be able to move to a rhythm. But now the use of computers gives me no end of work when I'm checking pupils' reports. Finding a "he" instead of a "she", or worse still, the wrong child's name, halfway through a report is a bit of a give-away and parents can understandably become rather upset.

Children are well able to evaluate their world and the actions of the adults who control it. When one child recounted to the class that his mother would be taking them to live some distance from the school following a row with his father, another observed: "That's an awful long way to go.

My mother just goes to Asda."

They also possess an inbuilt nonsense detector when it comes to over-statement of their achievements. This was borne out at home when we were enjoying some role play with our 4-year-old grandson, who was being introduced as "the greatest circus performer in the world, who is about to amaze and delight you with his magnificent acrobatic skills". The door burst open: "I'm not that good!"

At Dyce Primary, we have moved away from the spatter approach to praise as part of improvements in linking assessment to learning. I don't know that our early attempts at pupils' self-assessment in introducing the notion of two stars and a wish - two things you think you did well and one that could be improved upon - were entirely successful, given the comments from some:

"I done full stops"; "I will try to inproof my writing"; "I will try to smile more in class"; "I will try not to go to the toilet as much"; "I wish we will win the table of the week trofae."

Children also have to learn to be a little generous when involved in peer assessment. I had sympathies with one child, who was upset to the extent that he preferred to spell out to me his learning partner's stated view of his work: "B-o-o-l-o-c-k-s." It would appear that a bit of work on mutual courtesy would not have gone amiss either.

Joan Fenton is headteacher of Dyce Primary in AberdeenComment to scotlandplus@tes.co.uk

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