Summing up a pupil's performance over a year in a two-page report may seem a tough task for a teacher who is new to report writing. Doing so in a fair, accurate and personal way for 30 pupils can be daunting.
Bridget Ballance, a new teacher at Elston Hall Primary in Wolverhampton, teaches a class of 28. She spent three hours on her first report, but once she got into the swing of it the process became quicker. She has written 12 so far this year and now they are only taking about 45 minutes each to complete.
Nevertheless, she advises new teachers to start writing their reports as early as possible and not to write more than three a night. "They can be time consuming and it's only fair for the child that you give your attention to them," she says.
Keeping a file throughout the year and recording information about pupils at regular intervals can make recalling details for the reports much easier, advises James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex who hosts the NQT forum on TES Connect (www.tes.co.uk). This can be done using a spreadsheet that records the results of tests and other exercises. Copies of the pupils' best work can also be added to the file.
As well as making it easier to recall how pupils have progressed, this system is likely to make reports much more personal and meaningful to the parent and child.
When it came to writing her first reports, Miss Ballance asked an experienced teacher for three examples of previous reports, one for a high-achiever, one for an average pupil and one for a lower-ability child. "This was helpful as it gave me a bank of useful phrases to call upon if I was struggling to think of appropriate wording," she says.
When benchmarking pupils, remember that saying a pupil is high-ability is a relative statement, says Mr Williams. "Refer to what the pupil is being benchmarked against - be it national curriculum levels, the rest of the class or the whole year group."
You might say: "Simon is working well in his science classes. He is regularly producing level 4 work and, in relation to the class, he is in the top third of pupils," he suggests.
Miss Ballance tends to follow the same format for each report. For each subject she comments on her pupils' progress throughout the year and attempts to highlight an instance in which they have performed well. She then suggests something they can improve on.
Some schools use software that allows teachers to choose phrases from a database and create reports by inserting them into a template. Make sure you know how to use it well in advance of the deadline, warns Mr Williams. "There's nothing worse than being on deadline and not knowing how to operate the software or finding that it doesn't work on your laptop."
The knack to writing good reports is to remember that you are writing for the parents, he says. Try to avoid technical terms; keep the language simple and sentences short. A statement such as: "My summative assessment of Sonali's cognitive development this year using the APP model shows that she is in the top 25th percentile for achievement" would be meaningless to many, Mr Williams says.
However, it is possible to go too far in the opposite direction, he adds. "A report I received from a PE teacher 20 years ago read, `The boy done good.' It was sent back for elaboration and a rewrite."
Next week: Planning for the holiday
Things to think about
- Start as early as possible. Your first reports could take some time to write.
- Keep a file in which you document the progress and achievements of each pupil, ready to call upon when writing reports.
- Look at old reports written by colleagues.
- Keep the wording clear and simple.