Magic markbook

12th May 2000 at 01:00
Lynne Taylor's step-by-step guide to assessment with free support materials on the Online website

There have been many debates in recent years as to the content, focus and usefulness of the "school report". A friend and colleague, the late Ted Chandley had a report writing gift second to none. His reports regularly contained gems such as: "His sartorial elegance compliments the flamboyant characteristics of his essay composition."

I hope Ted's pupils, who included Sky TV football presenter Richard Keys, still treasure his words of wisdom. Alas, this style of report writing is, in the main, a thing of the past - Ted turned to the technology of the day and typed his reports on the sixth-form typewriter; how he would have appreciated a word processor!

Magic Markbook continues by looking at the methods of using ICT to report pupil achievement. Our free support materials can be found at Statutory Requirements Briefly, parents must be sent minimum information at least once a year about:

* progress in all subjects and activities studied;

* general progress;

* attendance record;

* the arrangements to discuss the report;

* where relevant, the pupil's curriculum assessment results etc, as specified and how these compare to results of pupils of the same age in school and nationally; and * any public examination results.

The QCA now offers additional information and help in its booklet Reporting to Parents to Improve Children's Achievement, and on the QCA website at The law requires schools to send out just one report each year. But ask yourself the questions: "What is the purpose of your reports? To whom are they directed? What processes are in place to follow-up the report?" Do that and very quickly you will conclude that one report is not enough. Has Magic Markbook lost its magic? Am I advocating that teachers should write more than one report each year? Certainly not!

The end of year report In many schools the annual report is written near the end of the academic year. The long summer holidays arrive, almost always followed by a new start with a new teacher in the autumn term and issues raised in the report become lost as the new year proceeds. So is this the right time if you want action as a result of the report?

Yes, the summer term is the right time for the statutory report of the year. It should celebrate achievements, chastise when things do not go to plan, sum up and round off the year suitably. It should be a document for children and parents to keep, to remember that year in school and to prompt memories in the future. It should contain individual comments, personal and unique; it is written evidence of a child's development to treasure. I believe it should never contain words like "appalling", "dreadful", "grim", "dire". There is a place for such words, but not in a written report - wher relevant they should be said directly to pupils and parents.

Can we achieve all this using software?

If you visit our area of the Online website you will find out how. Here you will find ready-made templates to help you write your own end-of-year reports. There are prompt sheets to help you to structure the report and a short comment bank to copy and paste. There is even an example of a letter to parents explaining how they can share the report with their child.

Interim Reports Many schools now send home interim reports on a regular basis. These often have the greatest impact, producing objective information about pupils for parents. If sent termly, achievements, progress, weaknesses and areas of concern can clearly be identified and monitored.

But these areas link directly to the objectives we have identified in February's Magic Markbook to track achievement and set targets. Implement this as we suggest and reporting can "sit" on top of this data. A report is simply your assessment data presented in a format that parents and pupils can understand. On the Web we offer interim report templates and suggest ways to adapt them to suit your school.

Reporting Software There are plenty of software packages written specifically to report pupil achievements. Of the ones I have seen, all have been well thought out and direct you to write clear, objective reports. Most offer quality comment banks that are linked to key learning targets in the national curriculum and most subjects, and all offer the ability to edit and add to reports to make them personal. Most may be linked to an OMR for easier data input.

It is not clear whether all make direct links to assessment recording data. Bear this in mind when you select a package. If you access our part of the website we have made reference to the major report writing software packages for you to explore.

I must say that all software companies give good, even superb, exemplars of the reports their software can produce. However they omit to show how easy it is to write dreadful ones.

What to do next: Things to do before June's Online, the last edition of Magic Markbook this academic year:

* get some ideas from other schools in our case studies * download our latest files * review assessment and reporting policy to establish what reports and when they are to be written.

* make sure all staff adhere to the school guidelines * if interim reports are written, link to standardised assessment data recorded in your system * investigate report writing software * initiate the "follow-up reports" process Next we will specifically concentrate on using assessment data for curriculum evaluation.

Lynne Taylor runs Cogent Computer Solutions, based in Kenilworth. Questions can be emailed tocogents@aol.comPrevious assessment materials can be accessed on the TES Online website

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