Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dear Reader,

Have you been furiously at work writing reports recently? Do you enjoy writing them?

 Having made the move this year from secondary to primary, I have appreciated the difference in the way that reports are managed across the two sectors.  In secondary they were a constant headache - a year group every half term, sometimes two at once - which meant at any one time I was always writing comments on some barely-known child or other.  In primary, reports are more akin to a torrent than a trickle, a huge undertaking that for me has marred what should have been a carefree, sunkissed last few weeks with my class.

I have to say, I wasn't anticipating this difficulty.  After all, I have been writing reports for years.  Furthermore, I am used to writing comments late into the night, exercise books and tests propped open around me like a sad bouquet sent to mourn the loss of  the meaningful student-teacher relationship.  This year, I was looking forward to finally being able to write about the students from really knowing them (unlike the one year I mixed up two quite different Rebeccas in my Year 10 class.  No-one seemed to notice).

So what was the cause of all the heartache?  For one, the sheer volume of comments.  Three or four sentences on roughly fifteen different subjects for every member of the class, each of them required to be unique and pertinent.  This, however was not the sticking point - all that was required was good time management.  Ha!  I began my comments roughly four weeks before the allotted deadline for checking.  Immediately a large, MS-Publisher-sized problem presented itself.  The actual writing of the reports turned out to be about as easy as raising a medium-sized ship from the sea bed.  My so-called 'template' moved about shockingly, due to being formatted by a moron.  My colleagues couldn't be bothered to give me their comments on time, or at all in some cases.  One, in particular, presented me with an assortment of illegible bits of paper in lieu of a memory stick because he was an 'underconfident typist'.

As the weeks dragged on, the process of writing these reports turned into a miserable trudge, rather than the joyous early escape I had imagined.  Now, let's be clear.  I enjoy almost any kind of writing.  Those who know me well will know that I am currently gleefully typing up product descriptions for the kinds of sex toys that I have to Google for at least half an hour.  So it gives me pause for thought when the kind of job I should relish - writing about the remarkable achievements of a small group of small people I have been getting to know and love for the past year - becomes so joyless it makes me want to outsource it to India.

What's gone wrong? My own experience aside, I know of no teacher who enjoys writing reports - and why should they, as one extra, deadline-driven task on top of the millions already grinding them down - but, even more importantly, I'm not at all sure of the rationale for writing them in the first place.  My experience was further heightened this year by reading the reports of my own darling progeny.  Even being able to read between the lines, even knowing about Levels and SATS and Phonics Screening Tests, my eventual conclusion was that they were both 'doing well', a conclusion I could have and did reach several months earlier by looking at their exercise books and a brief chat with each teacher.  More to the point, I know that they are both doing well because I am their parent and I listen to them very occasionally.

Who are we writing reports for?
Is it for the parents?  Is there anything we are fleshing out with  a ridiculous 'B clearly enjoyed...' or ' C seems to like' that couldn't be done in finer detail and greater accuracy by looking at their books?  Is there anything serious that comes up in a report that hasn't been dealt with weeks earlier by a timely parent-teacher conversation anyway? Is there anything more patronising than telling a child's own parents what they are good at?

Is it for the children themselves?  If so, why the heck aren't we giving this feedback through other means, at the right times?  Is there a need to summarise the year for the child, in the vain thought that they haven't registered that they are bottom of the class for Maths or working their socks off in Science? And if we are writing mostly for them, shouldn't we be modifying our language anyway?

Is it for ourselves?  Do we need convincing that we have registered the struggles and successes of our class, rather than simply fudging the reports by using ambiguous language and racking our brains for anything vaguely distinguishing to note down?  Do we need to write about the year in order to assess our own progress as a whole, and reflect on our own strengths and weaknesses?  If so, is this really the right format in which to do so?

Is it to satisfy our line managers, heads of department and key stage, and headteachers that we are doing a good job?  I would hope not.

1 comment:

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