Are report programmes making a fool out of teachers?
May half-term is National Copy and Paste week for many teachers. This is the time of year when teachers everywhere ‘write’ reports using formulaic phrases unashamedly nicked from some reporting software that promises ‘solutions’ to all your report-writing headaches.
These pieces of software should be reformed or banned.
Pupils and parents deserve better than the exceptionally thoughtless reports ceremoniously coughed out of school in the summer term. Pick up a handful of reports from the same class and you will see the same ‘stock’ phrases that are largely empty of meaning and do not remotely sound like a teacher talking. All you have to do is replace one child’s name with another, tweak it a bit and job done. Some reports look identical.
That’s not really a report on child progress, more a sad reflection that someone cannot use their own words.
Workload is a huge issue though and I’m all for saving time and energy, but reporting phrases from a data bank of thousands of options is just a shortcut and cop-out.
The worst types of reports ‘on the market’ are the tick-box style computer programmes which are the height of automated laziness. These are impersonal, insulting and amateurish. Wishy-washy phrases from a bank of comments that might offer a ‘best fit’ are unintelligent and actually so general they could be applied to a goat, coat or boat.
Parents don’t want to read insipid gobbledegook and something someone else has written or a computer-generated edu-babble, they want to know what it is teachers are thinking; they want the real deal.
Anyone can copy and paste or tick some boxes but this is really poor practice – it is shoe-horning at its worse.
Copy and paste reporting depersonalises the child, cheapens the academic year and paint strips the teacher of respect and integrity.
Many teachers take pride in writing personalised reports. It takes them days!
However, not many schools provide directed time for teachers to complete them, so who would blame any teacher for wanting to save a bit of time. In schools that do provide the time, how does a headteacher differentiate between which teacher gets what amount of time to complete reports? The person who teaches the most, or the person with the least experience?
Parents are not asking too much – it’s the end of the year and they need to know what we think. They aren’t bothered about our workload any more than we are bothered about theirs. They just want to know that we have thought carefully about strengths, weaknesses and what areas need focussed attention.
Whilst report writing is spread out over the year, the end of year report is the one that gets the most attention. This is a key communication between teacher and home and so it has to be written with guts, pride and professionalism and not seen as a mindless chore for over half-term. It has to be first and foremost personal.
In the independent sector, parents expect detailed reports, and regardless of which sector teachers are working in, few schools actually know if parents actually read them!
Every year, some parents will complain that reports contain inaccuracies – and these aren’t always related to spelling and grammatical cock-ups. At least schools know some are being read. The mistakes made relate to work ‘covered’ that wasn’t done or skills supposedly mastered that haven’t been studied in any real depth. This is where the computer model of reporting makes a fool of the teacher.
Report Writing Tips
Reports need to be written in plain English, not curriculum-speak. Avoid specialist language and professional terminology – ‘mastery’ and ‘higher-order thinking’ is meaningful to a teacher, but to some parents, this won’t mean anything. Parents don’t want to decode a report – it needs to dovetail community understanding. Keep it simple and make comments easy to understand.
2. Use quality evidence
It’s all about the evidence. Draw on examples of work throughout the year and focus on what children have actually achieved against curriculum standards. The evidence you provide helps inform parents about areas of strength, areas for development and ways to help.
3. Cut the crap
Avoid superfluous information at all costs. Some reports seem to say a lot about nothing and appear to be filling space rather than saying what needs to be said. Many use redundant phrases that add no value and waste time. Be specific and avoid crowding comments with too much detail or unnecessary comments that act as ‘padding’.
4. Focus on achievement
It is easy to report what has been done and topics that have been studied but ‘Florence has enjoyed learning about the Tudors’ goes nowhere unless linked to a specific achievement. Avoid comments that merely report on task completion because they are unhelpful without evidence …
5. Make it personal
Sidestep the temptation to offer curriculum descriptions and generalist statements that you can extract from a commentary bank. Parents want their child’s progress to be written by the teacher, how well they are moving along the learning continuum. Think about the following: How well are they are progressing towards expected levels of achievement? What are their learning goals and targets? Where do they need to improve? How can they improve? What pointers, tips, advice and suggestions can you give?
In an online era with tools reporting that engagement is anything between 5 and 50 seconds, smart schools are working online to curate short 2-minute video and audio recordings, emailing the hyperlinks out to parents and tracking the analytical data. Now, that’s smart reporting!
In the future, no pen or keyboard will be needed …