School reports and parents evenings are snapshots of a pupil’s past achievements and progress. They should be an integral part of a forward looking process.
Typically twice a year, school reports are an opportunity to take stock of a pupil’s progress, a snapshot. They include a summary of what the curriculum has covered and will cover next term, generic objectives for the whole class, specific learning objectives for your child, an attainment score and an effort score. Some schools give you one report a year, others every half term.
They vary enormously in quality. The worst school reports have cut and paste commentary. They leave you with the distinct impression that the teacher doesn’t know your child. It’s not surprising, because by and large school reports are written after the exam season. In the busiest term of the year.
The best school reports demonstrate knowledge of your child with evidence of work done and useful development objectives. Some primary school reports show attainment against a national standard. Senior schools show or imply projected grades in GCSEs and A Levels at the current rate of performance.
Parents evenings are usually of questionable value, but they can be invaluable
Once or twice yearly parents’ evenings fulfil a similar function to school reports with the only difference being face to face contact with the teacher. Formats vary, from 20 minutes with the form teacher to a speed dating format with all your child’s teachers. Usually, children don’t meet the teacher with you in primary school parents’ evenings, but they do in senior school with the benefit of ensuring clarity of message.
Again quality varies, and we have to be realistic about what can be achieved in a five minute meeting. The majority add little beyond the school report so their value is questionable. But they can be useful if they crystallise a single message, with the report taken as read.
One important advantage of the parents evening is that they can generate a favourable impression of the teacher and school. Way beyond what a written report can achieve.
The real value of school reports and parents evenings are as monitoring and intervention tools
Reports and parents evenings are where the school’s pastoral care programme and parental responsibility meet. A formal opportunity to exchange information and agree to next steps. But there’s a finesse.
The real value of school reports is that they are a monitoring and intervention tool. They allow parents and teachers to intervene in a child’s progress trajectory. If behaviour is an issue then both can agree a plan. If the pupil needs to learn a new technique to write a better history essay both can agree a plan.
In other words, the traditional way of thinking about school reports is as a record of events in the past. But they are far more valuable if they influence future learning behaviour. For example a report based on exams at the end of the year gives no opportunity to redress faltering progress. Except, perhaps, for resits over the summer holidays. A report based on frequent mini-tests or homework scores gives the opportunity to intervene immediately. If necessary, at the end of the first four weeks of the new academic year. In any case, outside the report and parents’ evening cycle.
The best monitoring and intervention programmes use data and evidence. Some schools use technology such as tablets to record evidence of work. But a manual system recording homework marks and test scores along with exercise books or portfolios work just as well. The more data about progress the more robust the assessment of progress will be. The more frequent the data, the earlier that intervention can take place. Spotting sudden dips in performance can trigger pastoral intervention too.
The added benefit of this “little but often” approach is that straight away the school report becomes specific to the individual child. No more thinking of things to say, no more cut and paste. This is an individualised learning plan, so often cited as a major objective for schools. Far from being extra work for school staff, continuous monitoring and intervention removes the self-serving blandness of school reports and any subsequent antipathy.