Today, the grades on a child’s report reflect not only a grasp of academic subjects, but also a variety of other factors such as attendance and behaviour. Do traditional grading systems and school reports tell us what we really want to know about a child’s learning?

I’m yet to be in a position where I receive a report on my child’s academic progress but, through the hustle and bustle of staffroom life, I am able to comment on what parents would like to read in their child’s report. And also, what things I would like to be able to write on a child’s report.

It always gets to that time of year when anyone and everyone start posting comments about their child’s school reports and rightly so, as any proud as punch parent would. I’ve listened and listened to people read reports aloud proudly, and in an unknowing capacity have celebrated with them but I have, on the same hand and with my teacher hat on, read into exactly what may have been meant by certain comments such as – ‘a keen leader’ or ‘very chatty’.

But how many of parents actually understand the grading systems? I know that in just our household alone, with my husband and I both being teachers, that our reports are written and graded entirely differently. But the one thing we both love to write is the ‘personal comment’.

Which part of a child’s report do you value the most, truly? There would be no prize for guessing which part I value the most, I hope that by the end of this article that is explicitly clear (if you haven’t got it yet). It always seems strange to me that the most personal, identifiable and meaningful section almost always comes last on the official documents received from schools. And, listening to some colleagues, often the only part (as teachers even) that many parents want to read as they ask themselves at least one of the following questions:

  • Is my child well-mannered?
  • Are they respectful to others?
  • Do they have friends?
  • Are they doing ok?
  • Are they happy?

In a nutshell, that’s the general consensus amongst my friends and colleagues if not many, many more parents. I would be happy to receive a report that simply answered those five questions with specific meaning for my child. After all, many schools now have systems and programmes installed which basically write reports for you. What’s personal about that?

On the other hand, I understand the legalities around having to provide written reports for parents regarding academic progress and as a teacher I expect to write formal reports for my children. However, it would be nice to be able to structure that report in such a way that reflects both the child and I. I’d love to be able to write as much as I wanted to or in fact needed to without worrying that I’ve extended the box or reduced the font to size 8 to keep all the pretty boring lines in place. I’d like to be able to write about memories made of watching that child grow academically, yes, but personally, socially and emotionally even more so. I’d love to be able to talk about the excitement in the classroom, the widening of a child’s eyes at a museum and the giddiness they displayed when realising that they actually could use formal written methods to multiply a 3-digit by 2-digit number.

But instead, many teachers are restricted by target ticking, objective meeting and comment checking in order that their judgements correlate with assessment data and that assessment data matches up with something else and something else. Maybe it’s time we stopped, took a long hard look at the reasons why we report to parents and ask the parents and the children what they would like to see on an end of year school report.

I do believe that effort and attainment alongside assessment and attendance can give a clear picture of a child’s educational journey but only if you are used to all the lingo and the jargon that goes with it. And to be honest, are we even familiar with it all? It changes so often that it seems an impossible task to keep up.

So do traditional grading systems tell us what we want to know about a child’s education? Do reports reflect enough about the child on a more personal level? My idea would be to communicate on a daily basis with parents using apps that are popular in the Early Years and Foundation Stage. Send photographs, comments and questions via the apps directly to parents and then, perhaps by the end of the year parents will have such a grasp on what their child has been doing throughout the year that the above five questions might be the only thing required on a school report.

Makes sense, doesn’t it? School supporting home, home supporting school and everyone supporting the child all year round – together! Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

Mrs. May, feel free to get in touch if you’d like to discuss this further; I have a merry band of companions who’d love to sip tea and talk education with you, if you’re free. #justsayin

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