How experts view the procedures and problems

21st September 2001 at 01:00
Primary teacher

Senior teacher with 11 years' experience in a city school

"We report once a year near the end of the session, with consultations with parents in terms one and two. The two consultations mean that parents are more informed when the report comes out.

"We use a parents' reply slip but don't have one for pupils.

"The workload issue is very heated as many teachers feel it takes too long to do reports. We've gone from the tick box approach of yesteryear to a very wordy report which has difficulties for parents and teachers. The true meaning of the pupil's progress can get lost in a sea of words.

"I think a combination of tick boxes and comments, as in many secondary models, would help both teachers and parents.

"The list of aims causes problems to both. Aims differ according to ability group. If the report tells parents the pupil has achieved all those aims it can lead them to think mistakenly that the child is doing well, unaware there are aims for other higher groups.

"Parents want to know their child's level of attainment, the effort they are putting in and how well they are interacting with others and developing as a person; in short, how happy they are. As reports stand, parents have to read in to them to glean the meaning because they are so wordy.

"Reports take about 60 to 70 hours to complete. That's two hours per report and a lot of hours out of the school year, which have an effect on learning and teaching over the four weeks taken to prepare them.

"A report needs to be clear, concise and effective, easy to read and informative and it needs to be obvious to the child. This is certainly not the case at the moment."

* Secondary teacher with eight years' experience in a comprehensive school in the Lothians

"Each department's report is an A5 sheet, about half of which is tick boxes and A to Fs to be circled for recording levels, with enough space for a comment of maybe two or three sentences.

"I think secondary reports are easier for parents to digest. I know secondary teachers who have kids and they find primary reports baffling sometimes.

"I think a general picture of the pupil's progress does emerge from the various departments and parents seem to understand them. The format is straightforward and looks at levels of achievement, the progress being made and behaviour.

"There's one written report per year and one parents' meeting, the meeting coming a few weeks after the report in term three. That allows parents to come in with comments or questions.

"There's space on the reply sheet for parents' comments, but not for pupils'.

"I'd say between reports and parents' evenings there's effective communication.

"In terms of workload, a set of class reports of 24 or 25 takes two or three hours, maybe 10 minutes per report.

"Rather than compiling the reports, it's the workload in recording pupils' progress regularly, which feeds the reports, that's the burden. That's what many teachers complain about.

"Assessment fatigue can set in among the pupils early in secondary. They're assessed for 5-14, then Standard grade, then Higher Still.

"There's also a lack of consistency between primary and secondary assessments. There's usually a discrepancy between the results of the S1 pre-test we give and the levels pupils have from primary. We mark to the same criteria but primaries interpret them leniently. Maybe copies of the reports would be a good idea."

* Ian Fraser

Head of early education and special needs for East Renfrewshire

"We consulted quite widely to develop our format of reporting, which can be adapted to suit each school. I can't see a national report would make much difference. You have to balance teacher workload against the information the parent can use or understand. You don't want a manual for a Concorde.

"We have put out a pamphlet which explains 5-14 so that there's no duplication in school reports. We produced the pamphlet because we wanted something more objective, more robust.

"Our system has a baseline assessment at nursery and we assess in reading, writing and maths in P3, P5, P7 and S2, all standardised assessments which parents can access, though we only report in written form annually with two parents' nights per session at primary and one at secondary."

* Judith Gillespie

Development manager for the Scottish Parent Teacher Council

"The 5-14 report is a kind of pro forma with a huge amount of information in it which must take teachers ages and ages to fill in. Parents don't necessarily want all this detail. They want to know if their child is doing OK, is happy and if heshe has any problems.

"Reports talk in terms of pupils overtaking the outcomes, like they've all got little engines revving on a motorway. They don't talk in terms of what parents want to know.

"You have to remember that 5-14 came out of the mindset of the years when Michael Forsyth was Education Minister and parents were intended as the police forces for schools. Accountability was about policing rather than gathering information.

"Reports need to be simplified. They're often meaningless to parents. A printed sheet about the curriculum aims for the year would be clearer and parents would rather have more time face to face with the teacher than these reports. The time spent writing these reports would be better spent talking to parents.

"Shorter reports as the basis for discussion are what parents want. They want more and longer meetings with teachers. But that has always been the case and teachers have always resisted it. And, post-McCrone, how could the required time be found?"

Ann Hill

Chief executive of the Scottish School Board Association

"I don't see reporting to parents as a big problem. We've never had a complaint saying reporting needs to be standardised.

"We do find parents saying there is a lack of continuity between primary and lower secondary and there is some evidence that pupils are not being stretched enough in secondary.

"I think after 10 years now parents are beginning to understand what the different levels mean. They are used to it. This is especially true with parents who already have a child who's gone through the system; they are more comfortable with the second child going through.

"A minority of parents don't understand reports or what the levels actually mean and would like it put in plainer English. In these cases a 10-minute meeting with the class teacher might not be enough, nor might there be enough time at parents' evenings to explain the system in detail.

"I think we do need a review of the information given to parents, explaining better what the expectations are; and a review of report formats, comparing them around the country would also be informative."

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