I’m sure I’m supposed to say they are a vital part of parent’s feedback and will be treasured and valued. But, actually, are they?
However much thought goes into them, are they ever more than a sycophantic snapshot, filled with teacher jargon and obscure adjectival changes to shift meaning for those who can read between the lines, and pull the wool over those who can’t? Is it just an arse covering exercise…”well if you read his Year 5 report Mrs Jenkins, it does say that he was developing his understanding, and was beginning to show signs of working at the expected level”. It’s clear to us teachers, but is it clear to the parents? I’ve seen it reports I’ve read, I’ve seen it in reports I’ve scrutinised for appeals, I’ve seen it my daughters reports, and yes, I’ve written it in reports myself.
Let’s be honest, unlike we are when we write reports, we don’t want to deal with the hassle from the parents at the end of the year but maybe, more importantly we don’t want to be told it is our fault. Little Johnny who has been a pain all year suddenly becomes a child who ‘has progressed well, despite a tendency to become distracted and lose focus at times’. Sorry? You’ve been in my office complaining about him and how he needs a 1:1 TA all year, and now all he does is become a bit distracted? However, if we tell it like it is, then it won’t be anyone’s fault but our own. Not in the eyes of the parents anyway. It doesn’t matter how many interventions we’ve run, how many booster groups have been delivered and how much extra support has been given, it will still be the school’s fault if there hasn’t been an improvement. It doesn’t matter that he hasn’t done a shred of homework. It doesn’t matter that he’s late every day. It doesn’t matter that he’s spent the last three months trying to write upside down with his wrong hand in italics, bold and starting every other sentence with one of those superman ’S’ shapes. We can’t say that.
But why? We should be able to say it. We are the experts, we are the professionals. We spend the most time with the children, we know how to make them improve. We’ve been doing all we can for the last 9 months. Why shouldn’t we tell it like it is? We should have faith that we have done all of we can. We can prove we have offered everything we said we would, but we haven’t been met halfway. Teachers are a most immodest breed, always thinking of what extra they could have done. Why should we cover up for a child who has refused to engage despite the best efforts of every member of staff who has come into contact with them?
It’s not blame shifting. It’s not an absolution of responsibilities. It is honesty. It’s realism. It’s helping prepare children for a world when there isn’t always someone there to gloss over the tricky bits and over emphasise the good. In an education world that is full of values and personal development, determination, resilience and perseverance are everywhere at the moment. There is another one that is always there as well though – honesty. Maybe it is time teachers started being truly honest with parents and children. We’ll help you, we’ll work with you and give you all the support you need, but if you aren’t pulling your weight we will hold you responsible, and tell your parents just as much. We are the experts, we should have nothing to fear because actually, deep down, we all know it is for best.