10 top tips to help teachers survive report-writing season

10 top tips to help teachers survive report-writing season

Your son is a saint – unfortunately the saint I refer to is the patron saint of fools

Anon

You've marked your last assessment, planned your final lessons and you can nearly feel the drink in your hand and the sun on your back. The only thing standing between you and your summer holiday? A mountain of reports to write.

Here, we ask teachers to share their tips and hacks for getting through report season. Got a tip to share? Head to @EdCentral on Twitter and tell us your finest.

Be personal

Students and parents value reports most when it's clear that the teacher really knows the child. So rather than write lots that is vague, try to hone in on the one thing that distinguishes that student from others.

Did they ask a perceptive question recently? Persist with a piece of work they found difficult? Score a goal they couldn't stop talking about? One of our teachers says: "I always start with a really specific example of something – anything – they've done well; it's so much more engaging than, 'Jonny has made good progress this term.'"

Have a word count

If your school policy allows it, stick to specific things the student has done well and one thing that you'd like to see the student do to improve further. It's easy to slip into the mindset that writing more is better, but it takes more time and weakens your message. Many schools have a word limit for reports, but if not, a self-imposed one can focus your thoughts.

Avoid jargon

So the student has achieved a level 7b in their paper 2? That might make sense in the staffroom, but most parents don't have specialist knowledge of the education system. And with GCSE grades changing to numbers, removal of national curriculum levels and a system where a level 5 has no relation to a GCSE grade 5 – there's plenty of room for confusion.

Imagine you're speaking to a friend or family member who's not a teacher – picturing how furrowed (or otherwise) their brow is can be a useful guide to helping you explain things in a way that doesn't require your reader to have QTS.

Tread the line between positivity and honesty

There's been a tendency in recent years for schools to only make positive comments in reports, resulting in platitudes that don't move anybody forward. The teacher who (really) wrote, "Your son is a saint - unfortunately the saint I refer to is the patron saint of fools" may have gone a little far. That said, parents appreciate straightforward comments like "behaviour remains unfocused at times". If your school insists on unadulterated positivity, practise your euphemisms. We can all picture what a child described as "lively", "spirited" and "knowing their own mind" might be like...

Copy and paste can be your friend

Bad cutting and pasting is the enemy of good report writing but, used judiciously, it can speed you up without sacrificing that personal touch. One of our teachers said that after a positive comment and a target, she cuts and pastes a generic section outlining the course of study and key learning outcomes. This is followed by a closing statement which highlights the thing it's most important for that student to keep doing and thanking them for what they've done.

Work out your strategy

Find your way of getting through reports. Another of our teachers writes a whole set of reports for one class then divides them into three themes: excellent, good but some improvement needed and concern. "I use these as templates for every other class, tweaking them to make them personal," they say. Some schools use comment banks which work in a similar way.

Find a proof reader

Fatigue, repetition and haste can all combine to let typos creep in. Gendered pronouns that you may have cut and pasted can be a particular killer. It's hard to spot your own errors so a bribable partner or friend who can offer a fresh pair of eyes can be invaluable.

Remember that reports aren't the be-all and end-all

Students' reports are only a small part of the meaningful and ongoing dialogue you have with your learners. Often the most important and impactful things you say will be when you greet them at the door, sit beside them as they struggle or praise them when you pass them in the corridor the day after they've done something brilliant. Reports need to be kept in perspective – they matter, but they are far from the most important thing you do.

Be kind to yourself

Sitting down to write reports at the end of a full day of teaching can be exhausting, so it's more important than ever to look after yourself. Block off the time for the task (with sensible breaks), turn off notifications or apps that will disturb you and, most importantly, plan something fun to do when you finish.

If all that fails… consider not doing them!

Increasing numbers of schools are abandoning written reports altogether. "We do two very short progress checks a year and four reports, but they're only for students we're concerned about," says one of our teachers. "An extra written report was a huge admin burden, and we've had no parents complain that they're gone."

With thanks to Claire Young, Chris Mattley, Kate Barnes and Clare Mellor for sharing their advice.

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