Is it time to put an end to school reports?

23 Jun

“Working hard and working smart sometimes can be two different things.” – Byron Dorgan

It is reports season for teachers across Wales once again. As well as their usual working week, which figures show is around 56-60 hours long on average depending if you work in a primary or secondary school, teachers have the task of writing detail summaries of performances for all the pupils that they teach, across all subjects. You can quite comfortably assume that for a primary school teacher with a class of around 30 this will equate to a labour cost of anything between 50-80 additional hours. When you consider that those teachers still have to complete their marking and planning is this really the best use of our school teachers time? For those unlucky enough to also be going through lesson observations or Estyn inspections at this time it is little wonder that there is such a high percentage of teachers suffering from stress related mental health issues in Wales.

This is just not a workload issue for teachers, albeit it is a significant one for them. A headteacher will have to read through each of the reports and add their own comments. That is hundreds upon hundreds of reports to wade through. Is that the most important task for a headteacher to be undertaking when we are consistently calling for a greater capacity for leadership and innovation within our schools?

The almost depressing reality is that the majority of parents will simply not read these reports. They may scan over the core subjects or teacher/headteacher summaries but the main detail will be ignored. Those parents that do read the entire report word for word are arguably parents that are already very well engaged with their children’s school work and have good existing relationships with teachers and schools. These reports are increasingly things that need to be seen to be written but not necessarily written to be seen.

In this day and age, of modern technology and interactive approaches, are these reports an archaic throwback to a different era? At a time of unsustainable workloads are they part of a system that has lost its relevance?

I am not suggesting that we scrap the important link with parents. Far from it. Firstly there would continue to be the parents evenings for teachers to provide face to face feedback on the progress of their pupils. Teacher will, as a matter of course, also always speak to parents on an informal basis to encourage them to support their children’s learning and to raise any potential concerns as well as offering praise for achievements. I am however suggesting that we do things differently to benefit everyone.

We are developing new systems all the time. The INCERTS model is attempting to reduce the bureaucracy of report writing but why do we not go further? Why not use modern technology to create a more instant and individual approach to parental feedback? A system that would allow parents to review the progress of their children online as an ongoing practice throughout the year rather than through one-off end of year documents. Combined with a marking system this could reduce duplication of workload, help identify potential concerns with parents at an earlier and easier stage and create better relationships between schools and families. It would establish a more consistent picture across the school year and, while teachers may be updating it on a more regular basis, it would put an end to that huge workload drain at the end of the year when teachers are mentally exhausted and when there are a range of other priorities being thrown at them. Such a system could also empower parents and guardians to access interactive approaches for how to support attainment in subjects and aspects of learning that individual pupils may be struggling with.

We are forever asking teachers to work harder.  For once lets look at how we can help them work smarter.

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