Ditch that old report card

30th September 2005 at 01:00
I can remember taking home report cards, dutifully noting that I was 15th out of 31 in cooking, or that I had got 52 per cent in French. Occasionally I was third in something, but not often.

My boys would bring back their report cards, and I would read them and feel either smug or proud. And I diligently attended parents' evenings. I wonder what it would have felt like if I had been always bottom, or if my beloved boys had been lucky to get a 6? What would it have felt like for them, handing over a document that says they are thick?

Somewhere along the line, guilt has crept into the psyche of teachers. We report three good things to every bad, so even the most horrible of brats seems angelic. And how many parents really understand what "working within level D" means, when describing their 13-year-old?

How many believe that Intermediate 2 is a realistic stepping stone to Highers? And now I am dealing with teachers reporting to teachers. Needless to say, the reality is that the truth can be hard to come by.

I'm too old for this game. My heart bleeds for the less able child who struggles through the curriculum not understanding much. Yet I find myself losing sympathy with the selfsame child who gathers together his buckling self-esteem and disrupts all about him.

We don't need streaming back again and I'm not sure reports really justify the time and energy spent on them. But I do think that we need accurate reporting of a child's ability within each subject, and we need to base the teaching on what a pupil can already do - and that requires differentiation in every classroom.

Every primary class has ability grouping, and yet secondary staff expect these children to settle into mixed-ability teaching. Is it really so difficult for teachers to have different expectations for pupils within the same class?

Primary teachers know their pupils inside out. High school staff don't, and therefore often accept work far beneath a pupil's real ability. Until secondary staff can find a way that accurately gives us a baseline for the level of work a pupil can produce, and then provide work at that level, we will never really allow our pupils to achieve their potential.

So let's cut the time spent on report cards, and concentrate instead on providing work that fits. Come on, all together now - age, ability and aptitude. We might find it cuts down on discipline problems, encourages better work from the more able and allows the less bright child to progress confidently on work they understand.

We would then have the time to target the parents of the child who is failing - and work together to do something about it.

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