Good report defies grabbity;Opinion

2nd July 1999 at 01:00
LIKE ALL parents I can get very distressed about the end of term report. Spelling and grammar have definitely improved this year although I'm sorry to say handwriting still leaves a lot be desired. It took me ages to decipher what Sarah's art teacher had actually written about her. I did, however, take comfort from the fact that jargon is on the decline at our local comp. I spotted only two references to "oral contributions in the learning situation" this year and both of those were from the geography staff of whom one shouldn't expect too much. On the whole Sarah's teachers are improving. Her report shows them to be conscientious and capable young people with a firm grasp of the subject matter (who my daughter actually is, always a basic requirement of report writing). I shall never forget the year when Tom suddenly became Tim in maths and we immediately set about trying to find for a new school for him.

Nevertheless something is bothering me about my eldest's report this year and I think, to be honest, it's the number of superlatives. Sarah's report is littered with phrases such as "Excellent!" "Superb!" "Impressive!" So many, in fact, it reads more like the kind of poster you might spot outside a West End theatre show than an honest assessment of my daughter's academic performance.

I know that Sarah has buckled down to work since going to senior school, but I also know that her room is a mess, her taste in magazines is tawdry and until last year she believed that things fell to earth under the influence of strange physical force called "grabbity". How on earth can such a flawed human being merit so many exclamation marks? Even if she is my daughter.

The answer has to be that the school is trying too hard to please. We parents are difficult customers. Too much criticism of our offspring engenders a healthy desire to burn down the staff room, too little gets us fretful. Schools have got to be a bit critical or else we begin to fear complacency. My old headmaster used to write "This is encouraging" on just about every report that ever crossed his desk. He was pleased but never satisfied. That's the way to keep us happy. As Groucho might have remarked:

"I could never let my child go to any school that's too delighted to have her."

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