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Are Your Report Cards A Waste Of Time?

The purpose of a school report card should be to provide information to parents about how their daughter or son is progressing. Recent reports by News Corp suggest that, “Parents were feeling shut-out of their child’s education even prior to the COVID-19 lockdown”.

Many report cards are filled with so much education jargon, that they require a translator. Despite the many, many hours that staff in schools, including both teachers and leaders put into the writing and checking of the reports, many parents find the reports to be of little value and don’t tell them what they actually want to know.

Long wordy curriculum statements fill a lot of space but often go unread as they are filled with education speak and not meeting the needs of the reader.

I believe that parents want to know how their daughter or son is going at school. To make it easier to write to meet their needs, I suggest imagining that you have bumped into Billy’s parents in aisle 4 at Woolworths (whilst keeping an appropriate social distance of course).
What would you say in response to their inevitable question, “How is Billy going at school?”

What would you say?
How would you summarise, in a couple of minutes, the key points that you would make?

Eg Billy’s starting to settle, some days are better than others. He sometimes looks a little tired in the mornings.
His reading is coming along but I’d like to see him reading to an adult at home more often because reading is such an important skill. He knows most of his sight words now so that has progressed well.
Billy’s behind where we’d like him to be with his number facts and we are using a couple of activities to help him recall the numbers.
He has made a couple of friends in Bill and Ben but I don’t sit them together because they can distract each other. I’m encouraging Billy to count slowly to 10 in his head when he feels he is getting upset or the others aren’t being fair.
He doesn’t find school easy but I can see he is trying hard and responds well to encouragement.
Do you know which aisle the toilet paper is in?

PLEASE NOTE I am NOT advocating for conducting parent-teacher interviews in the aisles of Woolworths. I am suggesting that we try to avoid education speak and spin and include in the reports the type of information that parents want to hear. Perhaps try using the audio recording device on your phone to record what you would say, in an informal chat, if you DID bump into the parent of each child. What would you say? It may be worth experimenting with the dictate function built into the latest version of Microsoft Word.

In many schools, parents complain that parent-teacher nights are like “speed dating”. At the end of your allocated 6 minutes, the bell rings and you move on to your next ‘date’. The analogy could be taken even further, as sometimes it is a ‘blind’ date as both parties struggle to make sure they are talking about the same child. Are parent-teacher interviews a sacred cow that should be revisited post Covid-19?

As always, there are two sides to the issue. Parents want to know how their child is progressing, how well they are achieving and what can be done further to support them. That is a lot for a secondary school teacher to cover in 6 minutes for just ONE subject.
Secondary teachers may teach 150 students each week. No wonder it could feel like a speed date!

Parents of primary students also want to know how their child is progressing, how well they are achieving and what can be done further to support them. They also want to know about their child’s social and emotional development.

Providing feedback on all of those areas for all curriculum areas, is a mammoth task to cover in 20 minutes for the primary teacher. The numbers become large. Each primary teacher has about 25 students. If the parents of each child are allocated just 20 minutes for the face-to-face meeting (with at least another 30 minutes per child needed to prepare for the meeting) then each teacher has at least 21 hours of additional work to do during the parent-teacher meeting phase. The 21 hours are on top of their usual load in teaching the class, preparing lessons, completing assessments and attending the numerous meetings and other day-to-day challenges of working in schools.

I’m not sure that the solution lies in technology (eg Zoom meetings would still need to be one-on-one and would therefore take just as long, if not longer!)

If we are serious about education as a partnership between the school and home we need to rethink how the needs of all parties can be addressed. This may require allocating additional resources as adding 21+ hours on top of a regular teaching load will result in something suffering – either the standard of the teaching, the quality of the parent meeting or the teacher’s well-being?