Teachers love teaching but hate the paperwork and so writing reports isn’t something they look forward to.
In fact, for many teachers report writing is a monumental chore that eats away at their well-being and sanity because they are so time-consuming. But they have to do it - the Department for Education requires schools to prepare annual reports for every pupil’s parents.
Some argue that reports have essentially become meaningless because they are full of waffle and so general that they could relate to anyone. Many reports use common phrases to describe different children and so have become depersonalised. There is also an over- emphasis on effort as opposed to student achievement and are seen as an imperfect means of communicating progress.
Some teachers feel that they can’t always be as honest as they’d like either and may use positive spin and sugar-coating to create ambiguous reports. Reports that are too positive, can fail to mention or conceal areas of weakness.
Tell it how it is
Hattie and Peddie (2003) in their research evaluation School reports: “Praising with Faint Damns” found that although school reports are one of the primary vehicles for relaying information about students' progress to parents, they emphasise what students can do, rather than what students cannot do.
They found that teachers tend to report on the surface features such as presentation, neatness, quantity, and effort rather than on what really matters – what to do next to improve.
What parents and students need to read is honest, comprehensible and constructive feedback as to how to improve, not reports drenched in worn-out ‘copy and paste’ phrases that are flimsy and feeble.
Many reports tend to be too general and not related to specific standards or criteria so Hattie recommends that reports should therefore be specific, offer specific strategies for improvement and are written in ways that are easy to understand.
Consistent in readings about school reports is the gap between what teachers think they have said in reports and what parents actually understand. This is particularly so when standards aren’t made clear or when inconsistencies exist in the school.
Unfortunately, teachers' report narratives often fail to support parental understanding of their children's learning or provide the necessary guidance and advice to help them provide support at home.
When writing reports teachers should consider how parents will understand them. Hattie found that “expectation” or “frequency” comments are often vague and many terms used by teachers can also be quite agricultural (e.g. developing, emerging, growing) but not actually that helpful or specific enough.
Ineffective reports use the turgid and often impenetrable language of the curriculum rather ‘plain language’. Technocratic and teacher stock phrases can give the impression of objectivity but in reality they leave readers none the wiser and feeling short-changed. Parents shouldn’t be left trying to cut through the cliché and interpreting what teachers are saying.
Unfortunately, school reports can also be something of a PR exercise for schools because they can over-emphasise student successes and are used to improve their own image.
The most effective reports are personal, specific and focused on needs and growth. They aren’t wishy-washy and vague but distinctive and on point, honed and edited with the individual in mind. They don’t patronise and they don’t spring surprises either. They are understandable and can even be blunt.
They avoid jargon and edu-phrases, they are honest, helpful and they report on achievement, progress and next steps. Comments need to have a clear purpose and be written “at a level of detail (grain size) that provides meaningful information” (Hollingsworth and Heard, 2018). They should say what pupils can and can’t do, what they can partly do and what they need to do further.
Technology has had both a positive and negative impact on teachers’ assessments of student learning and on school-parent communication.
When used badly they are burdensome and comments are robotic and pointless but when used intelligently, technology can be a powerful ally and Educater’s School Reports is a great example of how software can be a workload wonder and combine customisation with craft and attention to detail.
Educater’s School Reports allows teachers to build up their own personal bank of statements so that what they write aligns personally to their pupils. It allows teachers to use pre-defined templates or upload their own, it displays information from Educater Assessment and Educater Pupil Passport and provides a timeline with clear deadlines for writing comments. It is both formative and summative and provides relevant and meaningful information, feedback and feedforward.
What parents want to receive from their child’s teacher is a user-friendly in-depth school report with personalised comments which clearly show their child’s strengths and weaknesses, progress and attainment. They form part of a child’s personal history and so they need to communicate the finer details with real care and thought.
Educater supports teachers to do exactly that by providing the creative tools to prepare high quality, strategic, transparent and personalised reports whilst protecting their wellbeing. It combines intelligent assessment with a personal touch and avoids detached edu-babble allowing teachers to be concise, effective, and cite specifics.
Parents place a higher priority on receiving information about their children’s progress via reports than any other type of information they receive from schools. Getting their child’s report is a key date in the calendar.
Reports matter and they are a valuable opportunity to create strong relationships between teachers and the family of their pupils; it’s a three-way process.
Sterile and technical reports that adopt a tick-box approach with limited comments aren’t up to the job or fit for purpose; pupils and parents deserve better.
If you are reviewing your approach to the annual written report then look at what Educater has to offer – it is manageable, person-centred and gets to the heart of what needs to be reported by offering a more rounded and personal picture of their child.
Auther | John Dabell