In the Middle - The finer points of report writing

21st November 2008 at 00:00

One might assume that on the subject of report writing, your average teacher (educated to degree level, and often beyond) would find the task like a walk in the park. Alas, for some it's more like a venture into a thicket.

If you have the unenviable task of reading through a mound of reports that colleagues have submitted as ready for sending to parents, you will know the various pitfalls.

For one, many teachers (especially new ones) find it almost impossible to tell the truth. The art of criticising a pupil's performance is generally to wrap it around something positive. Teachers are usually past masters at this, but when it comes to reports, it seems to challenge some, as if putting it in writing may be used in evidence against them.

Another pitfall is the use of jargon: "Jade is working towards 5B at KS3". For many parents this will be unfathomable. The challenge for teachers is to decode the national curriculum. (Try to ignore the fact that curriculum designers also seem to have been challenged in describing levels.)

A third hazard is the practice of referring to a bank of comments and copying selections for each pupil. The result is rarely seamless. Add to this the common errors of mixing pronouns - heshe, hisher - and you get a mess.

Finally, there is the sensitive issue of spelling and punctuation. I am not saying that some teachers can't spell or correctly use the apostrophe. Let's just say there are usually typographical errors, caused by overwork or late-night fatigue. Encourage proof-reading before the reports reach you.

The best report, in my experience, is where the teacher has actually paused for thought before composing the first sentence. It provides, in plain English, a true and balanced picture of the pupil and refers to such basics as attainment, attitude and effort. Ultimately, it gives parents what they are looking for: a professional and individualised account of their child's progress.

Lindy Barclay, Deputy head, Redbridge Community School in Southampton.

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