Teachers 'too soft on pupils' in school reports

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The Independent Online

Education Correspondent

School reports are often too positive and fail to mention pupils' faults and weaknesses, according to an inspectors' report published today.

Instead of being told whether their children's performances are good, average or poor, parents are rarely told of any problems and are often confused by national curriculum terminology. Many parents, unaware of their children's failings, are not given the opportunity to help them, the survey by the Government inspection body, Ofsted, says.

Visits to 222 schools to see how they reported to parents on the progress of pupils up to the age of 16 revealed that while teachers spent between 30 and 100 hours each year on report-writing, much of it was wasted.

Teachers felt uncomfortable about giving negative messages in writing, and even more so when they were face-to-face with parents, the inspectors found. The head teacher of one primary school told them: "We try to keep the balance positive and hesitate to mention weaknesses, being concerned not to alarm parents about what might be only a short-term problem."

One child's report recorded: "Uzma ...can concentrate for short periods of time." The girl's parents were left unaware that she presumably could not concentrate for very long, the inspectors remarked.

Instead of the terse and sometimes cutting comments which used to appear on school reports, parents are now told which national curriculum stage their child has reached and which attainment targets they have covered.

For example, a report might note that a pupil "has worked hard on equivalent fractions and enjoys mental arithmetic", or that he "is making 2D and 3D shapes with increasing accuracy". This leaves parents with little idea of whether the child is doing well compared with their class or to national averages.

Even more confusing were the comments quoted in the inspectors' report: "Mathematics NC level 5. Attainment grade A. History NC level 3. Attainment grade A." The inspectors added that more than half the reports they saw failed to diagnose pupils' weaknesses and thus failed to make clear what they had to do to improve.

Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the National Confederation of Parent Teacher Associations, said any negative comments in reports should be standardised across the country so pupils who received them were not stigmatised.

"There is a danger that if schools write all kind of things on reports, it can be held against the child for ever. We put tremendous pressure on children as it is," she said.

nReporting Pupils' Achievements: A report from the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools, is available from HMSO priced pounds 3.50.