Succour for the ceiling checkers

13th June 2008 at 01:00
The wisdom of Henry Walpole
The wisdom of Henry Walpole

For most us there is one final hurdle in the teaching year. For one or two of you, it may be an unhinged headteacher with a propensity to get drunk at the staff summer "do" who attempts some dancehall grinding with the trainees. For the rest of us, it's reports.

Report writing is so boring it makes normal marking feel like an alpine holiday, with a case of champagne and a bevy of international models.

It's a relentless drudge of non-committal platitudes that mustn't reveal any truth about the child that might lead to confrontation with the parents.

Of course, it wasn't long ago that reports were brutally honest. Some colleagues of mine remember nostalgically a teacher who gave a pupil a PE report of "David moves on the pitch with the dynamism of a galleon becalmed".

For any of you who become misty-eyed at the memory of teaching in the 1980s, I remember a friend who was at school at the time. His class was tested at the start of the year and then seated in rows in reverse ability order.

The teacher called his pupils at the front "the vegetable patch". Even a card-carrying cynic like myself was taken aback at that. You can be too honest.

So what do teachers' comments really mean? I present a handy translation for the trainees.

"Friendship problems" - your child could start a fight in an empty room.

"Can find it hard to settle" - spends the first 10 minutes of every lesson whirling around the room like a Tasmanian devil, before being forcibly restrained by a teaching assistant and stapled to the chair.

"Shows some small signs of improvement" - they don't, but it's the end of the year and I can't face another screaming match with you.

"Can drift off task" - if ceiling checking was a career option, your child would be just fine.

"They can be physical" - I know this child's dad is still in prison so I'll probably get away with that one.

" ... despite this, I wish them well for a new start at secondary school" - it's party time.

Reports are part of the assessment process and provide a useful dialogue between school and home to ensure higher value-added. This is why they are stuffed at the bottom of book bags (along with the controversial next-year class lists) and handed out on the last day of term, usually flung to the pupil from the teacher's car window as they rev their Fiat Punto's engine in the car park. The head is probably already off-site, "working from home".

Of course, computers have made the process far easier. Every experienced teacher knows that Arial takes up a little bit more room than Times New Roman. But many have yet to master finding and replacing personal pronouns. Some poor pupils change sex so many times that the final report is like one year's worth of Channel 5 documentaries rolled into one. Anyway, enough procrastinating, I must get back to it.

More from Henry in a fortnight.

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