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Things I wish I'd known

There's a lot more to reports than 'could do better' and 'must try harder', says Sue Cowley

Report writing always seems to arrive out of the blue, and when you're at your most busy. Although you might have a million other things to get done, remember that reports are important. They provide a key form of contact, particularly in secondary schools where you get few chances to communicate with pupils' homes. They also give a strong impression about what you're like as a teacher, not only to the child and the parents, but also to the managers at your school.

Get started as soon as you know that reports are on the horizon, perhaps scribbling down a few brief notes for each child. Set some lesson activities that give you time to make assessments - for instance, individual presentations during which you can watch and make notes.

Computers make report writing much easier. I use a standard list of comments which I adapt for each child. Create banks of comments for varying levels of achievement, from the weakest to the very strong, then include one or two personal remarks to individualise each report.

Be careful about the language you use and the way you phrase what you say.

Try to translate what you really think and feel into something positive.

Your aim is to encourage your little darlings, not to put them off school for life. So it might be that the finished report reads: "Tommy finds it difficult to keep quiet. He must develop his concentration and focus on the task at hand." This, of course, has been translated from: "Tommy is a total pain in the backside. He won't shut up, he just talks constantly and it really gets on my nerves."

Reports go through a long line of people for checking before they finally reach parents. Bear in mind at all times that this is likely to include a member of the senior management team. If you hand in your reports late, it can cause all sorts of problems down the line and does not create a good impression.

When you've finished, try to put yourself in your pupils' shoes for a moment before you send them off with their beautifully presented reports.

It's all well and good for those whose missives home are full of glowing comments, but if yours is a litany of "must do betters", then how likely is it that the envelope will actually reach the parents? If you're in any doubt, post an extra copy home, or phone to check that the report has arrived intact, rather than ending its days in a puddle outside the school gates.

Sue Cowley is an educational writer, trainer, presenter and consultant. She also supply-teaches. Her latest book , Sue Cowley's Teaching Clinic, is published by Continuum at pound;9.99. Contact: sue@suecowley.co.uk

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