Reports need a personal touch

20th May 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Reports need a personal touch

It's report time and I've got to my personal comments. I'm trying to remember what it was that Chelsea brought in that day. It had caused a real stir - the pupils had been buzzing like bees around the proverbial honey pot. I had stood and watched for a bit as I knew nothing in my classroom could compete with the excitement of what was being shown in the cloakroom.

But for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

Does it matter? Yes, it really does. Part and parcel of a creative year is getting to know the individual inside every pupil, however carefully they have hidden it away. What gets you through SATs and other faceless exercises is knowing that you have never planned for or judged a pupil based on simply a number or a level. When it comes to the annual report to parents then, I find it desperately important to personalise it and make it clear that this report could not have been written for any other child, because this isn't any other child.

The importance of this was brought home to me a few years ago when a former pupil came to see me and threw his report on the desk. "It's rubbish!" he shouted. "What a rubbish report!"

Now Matt struggled at times, but I read my colleague's comments and they seemed completely positive and uncontroversial. "Not one mention of swimming!" he said. "It's so unfair!"

Matt was in the local swim team and lived for the one lesson each week when he was not the struggler. Positive comments on his weaker areas were not enough, Matt needed his personal strengths acknowledged in his report as well.

Even when writing reports with a statement bank, I've found the personal touch makes a difference. Nearly all computerised systems allow tweaks and changes, and it is worth the time to reflect the efforts you have made through the year to get to know each child as an individual, and it doesn't have to be an academic strength. Recount a comment a pupil has made, a special success, an act of kindness or, as in Chelsea's case, something brought from home. These make it clear that you have noticed them, bringing credibility to the other comments and targets in the report, for both the pupil and their family.

A tip that I was given in my first year of writing reports was to address the final "targetty" sentence to the pupil themselves. This allows you to be personal, caring and yet uncompromising. Telling parents to ensure their child brings their book in every day can sound critical, whereas "Jimmy, your writing is improving, now remember to bring your book every day!"

isn't nearly as threatening. That reminds me - Chelsea brought in a pop-up book. I wonder if I can make a pop-up report? That would be different!

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School in Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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