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Could do better?

It’s that time of year and all around the country children and parents are nervously waiting to receive their end of term reports…

I still have all of my own school reports, handwritten in ink, dating back to my time at primary school. Sadly these contain few teacher comments, after all, what would be the point in writing words when a single letter will do? My final primary school report is really nothing but a very long list of ‘B’s, which to me says ‘ok at most things’ – perhaps the perfect grounding for a career as a primary Headteacher?

The B’s continued early on into secondary school, but here numbers were introduced for ‘effort’ and my ‘B’s were accompanied by a long list of ‘2’s, with the exception of geography, where I got a ‘C1’, i.e. ‘not very good but tries really hard’. I remember doing very well in the end of year exam, and always suspect the teacher muddled my ‘C1’ with an ‘A3’. Sadly I’ll never know.

Teacher’s comments were usually short and to the point. My personal favourite was simply, ‘Middle-of-the-road respectability’. I remember at the time feeling confused as to what this meant, as I still am today. ‘William has shown very little interest in this subject’ was about as good as it ever got for me in German.

The B’s dipped in my teenage years, with one spectacularly bad report nicely summarised by the Headteacher’s comment, ‘The order is one work, two cricket – and he is not to forget it’. There is a certain irony here as I spent this weekend playing cricket when I really should have been writing Headteacher’s comments on children’s school reports.

When I started teaching, school reports were always handwritten, which really does focus the mind. I remember the school’s expectation of two sides of A4 per pupil being badly abused by some teachers, whose handwriting style always seemed to become substantially bigger in the summer. However what was produced was always bespoke and personal.

Done well, school report writing is a hugely time consuming business, which is why many schools have opted for the computer generated option. There are all sorts of report writing software packages available out there, which generally involve teachers clicking from a bank of generic statements: ‘(Insert name) has had a (insert adjective) year. I am very (insert adjective) with (insert pronoun) progress.’ I guess this satisfies the statutory requirement to produce a report, and the software does this in the most time effective way, but perhaps their formulaic and impersonal nature makes them rather pointless.

The reality is that these days ‘cut and paste’ of course features in report writing, and so it should – after all, there are only so many ways you can say ‘(insert name) has worked exceptionally hard this year and made excellent progress in all subjects.’ That said, I do feel our school reports at Highgate Primary are well written and very personal to the child. So spare a thought for our teachers who have given blood, sweat and tears to get these lovingly written reports ready for Friday. So far I’ve read about 300 but I’ve yet to come across a ‘Middle-of-the-road respectability’. How times have changed.​

William