Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'School reports are not what they used to be'

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The Independent Online

It's report time. I can't wait to read Miss Perry's prose on the twins' progress. The anticipation is tangible. That is, however, until I overhear a conversation about how today's reports are not what they used to be. Gone is the illegible scrawl smattered with "rests on her laurels". Now it's all computerised jargon, with set phrases jiggled about a bit to fit each child. I take umbrage at this notion and pick a fight with my best friend, who is a primary school teacher.

"Tell me it's not true," I say, pointing a finger. "Tell me that teachers don't really use computerised stock phrases to write reports?" There's a pause, as there always is when she senses I'm about to embark on one of my diatribes. "You're so out of touch," she says. "There's probably no longer a school in the land that sends out handwritten reports. And for the record, it's not 'computerised stock phrases', it's a software package." She says "software package" like it's supposed to sanitise the issue. "I don't care if it's 'software' or 'hardware'," I say, laying into her. "How impersonal is trying to fit a stock phrase to each child?" My friend exhales loudly. She can't wait for term to end so I'll give her a break. "We don't fit stock phrases to each child," she promises. "A good teacher just uses the package as a scaffold."

For a minute I'm transported back to my teens. I watch my mum poring over the report's pages with a licked finger. I watch eagle-like for giveaway expressions. I wait with bated breath for the verdict. This I can remember like yesterday – along with the "could do betters", "room for improvements" and the "will do anything to get out of PE". And now, as Oliver leaves the classroom brandishing a large brown envelope, it's over to the next generation and the start of 13 years of critique.

"It's my report," he states proudly, "which is going to tell you how happy Miss Perry is with my learning." All the way back the two brown envelopes clutched in my grip burn hot on the skin. Safely home, with the twins playing in the sitting room, no time is wasted. I tear at the paper with the same urgency given to opening my GCSE results and perch on the bottom stair, preparing for a light-hearted read. What I'm greeted with, however, isn't a couple of lines on each subject, but an epic of Tolstoy proportions. It looks like a newspaper crammed onto three sides of A4 – and that's just for Oliver.

It's not till the fifth re-read that most of it's sunk in. Miss Perry has clearly got the measure of both of them and despite the odd recurring "software package" line, the text is pretty personal. Claire is described as "a lovely girl who has a fantastic sense of humour... a real character... particularly skilled when drawing". Oliver is "extremely inquisitive... has an excellent understanding of numbers... has done fantastically well with his reading". Both reports gush with more praise than a hymn book, and rather than basking in that glory, for some reason I feel cheated.

Perhaps all primary age pupils are described in positive terms. Perhaps this is policy, but if I can find something negative, it will make the hype more believable. I scour the reports one last time, looking for a teeny-weeny, remotely derogatory comment. At last I find it. "Oliver tends to do pictures that are big and bold rather than including lots of detail." Ah, now I feel much better.