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Primary Education News
News Secret Teacher: schools are flunking when it comes to student reports
Teachers' honesty and integrity are being jettisoned in favour of a quick fix to get reports out the way, argues Secret Teacher
As a late entrant to the profession, I have been overwhelmed in my admiration for what teachers do. I have worked everywhere from live television to engineering offices designing sewerage systems to high street bookmakers. And I have yet to encounter the level of deeply ingrained and staggeringly selfless commitment required of the modern secondary school teacher.
And yet, we can be our own worst enemies. Take report deadlines; they arrive with de facto regularity seemingly calibrated to create maximum havoc within both our professional and private lives. But they are an important mechanism, cementing the wobbly triumvirate of teacher-student-parent that we rely on to push our young people forward. And yet we have fallen into a pattern whereby honesty and integrity have been jettisoned for convenience.
I am singularly frustrated by my inability to convey to a parent exactly what I think of their child. I'm not confusing myself with JD Salinger or the French existentialists. I am simply attempting to be a teacher of good conscience who can convey to the parents of the children I teach the fact that I know said child, appreciate their strengths and weaknesses, and wish to comment honestly on both. However, I am prevented from doing so. I have been told, variously, that we must protect our maths/PE department, who might lack linguistic finesse and prefer to use the software to write reports, thus rendering those of us who are able to have an honest exchange with parents unable to do so. Plus I am told "everybody does it this way nowadays".
Instead I must select from a rigid set of comments, which is really just a pin-stickers charter, the approximately appropriate argot. I can't say that I know that: "Jade has put all his hopes on a footballing career, but his subject knowledge is excellent and he could do really well to pursue that (as I told you at parents' evening)". What I can say is: "Jade might do well to use a thesaurus before he submits work." Because that's number 112 on the available choices menu and I haven't used it yet. The whole exercise is utterly meaningless, disfiguring, counter-productive.
I know this because last year, as a parent, I received a whopping school report for my year 7 son. Said report indicated that Imran (sorry, that's not even remotely close to his name) had achieved generally well. His behaviour in art was both utterly disruptive and exemplary. He had achieved great things and hadn't done a stroke. But never mind the fact that neither I nor my partner could make head nor tail of what they were saying; look at how thick the report is. Loads of pages.
Isn't it time we actually wrote meaningful things about children we have spent time with? Is it not an absolute abdication of our responsibility if we don't? I have been in a staffroom where a teacher proudly boasted they'd polished off 60 reports in 30 minutes. I don't think that serves our students, nor us, well. In fact, I'm quite ashamed of the fact that we've signed up to the exact level of bureaucratic idiocy that we so bemoan in those who shape educational policy.
This one's on us, I think. There is no Ofsted policy document nor idiot-Gove-initiative that behoves us to behave in such a manner. And every time we tick on a box about a student, a real live individual that we have come to know well, that may have started to trust us, it not only diminishes our powers of advocacy on their behalf but also denigrates the central relationship. Because we lied, or found nearest fit, rather than spoke honestly.
Today's Secret Teacher works at a secondary school in southern England.