Writing school reports is undeniably time-consuming but also an important part of a teacher's job. They are also an opportunity to create strong relationships between teachers and the family of their students. Reports help teacher highlight concerns or are an opportunity to congratulate and also help to communicate to parents and students the way forward.
Reports are thoughtful, helpful and honest. Keep it straightforward and accurate but emphasise the positives. Write professionally, making a note of achievements. Of course, you can also use reports as a way to let parents know of any concerns – but remain professional. If you have any serious concerns, then the parents should know about it already! Under no circumstances use the report card as an opportunity to “settle scores with children”- it’s deeply unprofessional.
When it comes to writing reports, some schools use comment bank, IT-led responses that can be generated quickly from a database of pre-written sentences. This is faster and removes the risk of errors in spelling and grammar, but it can also result in a less personalised report. Schools prefer teachers to write each report, adding personal comments to make them individualised, but this approach takes longer and requires careful proof-reading. No parent will be impressed with teacher errors such as “Tom’s spelin needs attention”. Whatever your school’s format for report writing, you must follow it to ensure continuity.
Resist the temptation to generalise or cut and paste as it shows that you either aren’t aware of your pupil’s individual circumstances or worse still - that you don’t care.
Here are our tips
Allow plenty of time and plan ahead - Writing reports can take longer than you think and you don’t want to be rushed or to miss the deadline. When you start at a new school, study the report system in use. get familiar with the software, read previous reports etc. Plan your work, your marking and your record keeping with one eye on what you're going to have to do at report time.
Record information throughout the year - Keeping a file recording information about pupils at regular intervals can make recalling details for the reports much easier. You can record the results of tests as well as store copies of the pupils’ best work. This system is likely to make reports much more personal and meaningful to the parent and the child.
Useful statements and benchmarking - Try creating a bank of useful statements - some for a high-achiever, some for an average pupil and some for a lower-ability child. When benchmarking pupils, remember to refer to what the pupil is being benchmarked against be it national curriculum levels, the rest of the class or the whole year group.
E.G “Simon is working well in his Science classes. He is regularly producing Level 4 work and in relation to the class, he is in the top third of pupils”
Reports look more professional if the vocabulary is descriptive and concise. Avoid using the words ‘good’, ‘well’ and ‘average’. These words give a very general picture and are not very informative. Try to find a more interesting and thoughtful comment like the ones below.
- Grasps new concepts quickly
- Loves learning new skills
- Enjoys being involved in
- Has a wide general knowledge
- Is quick to transfer new information from his short-term to long-term memory
- Is well-organised/reliable/keen
Know your children and focus on individuals
Seems obvious, but even with good record keeping and banks of useful statements there's no substitute for having a solid mental picture of the child you're writing about. Focus on putting names to faces and build relationships from day one in the school. You teach to a class, but pupils are individuals. Over and above any formal performance data the school may ask you to record, try keeping updated summary notes on the more personal strengths and weaknesses of each pupil:
E.G. Jack Jones - attentive, quiet, easily overlooked, dry wit when you get to know him well.
Parents will be pleased when you show this understanding of their child in your written reports or parent / teacher interviews
Keep it simple
Remember you are writing for the parents so avoid jargon.
E.G. "John can use dates and vocabulary relating to the passing of time, including ancient, modern, BC, AD, century and decade"
Most parents are looking for three essential bits of information from a school report:
- Is my child doing well?
- Where is improvement needed?
- How does it compare with my child's last report?
Provide details and give examples
Parents want to know that their children are moving forward in your subject. It's not enough to say "Doing well". Study previous reports and write comments which make comparisons in specific areas
E.G. "Her watercolour work has improved technically this term, as illustrated in her painting of Don Quixote now displayed in the school entrance hall".
If you have to produce a hand-written report, make sure it is legible and in an adult script.
Be clear, concise and don’t patronise. Remember you're addressing adults who know their own children.
Be accurate and check spelling and grammar
A single factual error, spelling mistake or example of poor grammar can devalue for the parent, everything else you write. Check, check and check again before you submit your reports. Once written, allow yourself time to read all the reports through. Use spell-check, a dictionary and best of all - use your friends, partners and colleagues to proof-reader
Positive, not negative
You are paid to make sure that Jack does his homework, so "Jack never does his homework" is actually a comment on your performance not his! Judgmental words invite a similar response. Remember your audience are programmed to protect the very person you are writing about – and may well be ready to pounce!
Getting the tone right is almost as important as getting the information across accurately. Remember that you are dealing with proud parents so you must find ways to make your comments sensitive as well as accurate if you hope to keep the support of the parents
If you write a report which is largely negative, it can lead to a breakdown in relations between the school and home. Although you have to be honest about the pupils’ shortcomings, it is important to highlight their strengths first and your tone should display your genuine interest in the child.
Try using some of these expressions, which demonstrate a positive approach:
- For example, I was pleased when...
- Or, I hope he will develop his talent for...
- And, I enjoy teaching her because...
These comments may help highlight the pupil’s weakness in the most positive manner:
For the less able:
- tries hard but needs extra support
- is keen but has a short attention span
- copes best in a small group
- needs extra practice at each level to keep up with the class
- acquires new skills/concepts after a lot of practice.
For the reluctant learner try:
- makes avoidable mistakes
- needs to check her work more closely
- needs to supervise closely to be kept on task
For the child with poor social skills:
- needs to consider other children’s feelings
- does not realise that other children deserve as much attention in class
Highlight the school's values
The comment "Susan has shown great kindness to a new pupil this term" will make Susan feel good and also signal to her parents that there's much more to her school life than her progress through the curriculum.
Where credit is due
Make sure you note any support or credit worthy actions. Is the child in a choir or on a sports team? Does he or she work hard backstage during school shows? Make sure that this kind of contribution isn't missed
E.G “Jane has shown considerable improvement in her homework over this last half term. She's gained noticeably in confidence as a result. Many thanks for your support”
Help colleagues and ask support staff
Draw the attention of other teachers to comments they might make. The observations of teaching assistants, playground supervisors and office staff can also add a different and often positive dimension to a child's report.
E.G "Could you mention that Carl worked really well on that Geography trip I helped you to supervise?"
Maintain perspective - If your proposed comment on a student’s report differs significantly from the general trend, for example, much poorer effort in your subject than in any others, put the report aside until you can discuss it with your line manager. This is something that should have been spotted earlier - now it needs dealing with, possibly with a parent consultation before the report goes home.
In conclusion, writing reports can be a daunting task, especially in your first year of teaching. Take heart knowing that when you have completed them you can congratulate yourself on a job well done and for those of you writing your first reports - it will be easier next year!