The bits of the school report that matter

Report

There are loads of things that people warn you about before you have kids, but which you kind of shrug off thinking they’re making a big deal over nothing. No sleep? Yeah, whatever – it can’t be that hard can it? Tantrums during the terrible twos? Not my kid. Competitive mum syndrome? Oh, come on. That’s not even a thing.

But then you become a parent and you realise everything they said was true. The sleepless nights are hard (HARD I tell you). Tantrums are zero fun. And that competitive mum thing? Turns out it does exist after all.

I clearly remember chatting with an old timer mum at a playgroup when Frog was a baby. This mum had been around the block – she had two older kids at school as well as a baby. “You think mums are competitive about their baby’s development, just wait until your little one starts school!” she laughed. 

Now my daughter’s nearing the end of her first year at school I can kind of see what that experienced mum was saying. The thing is, I don’t think it’s as simple as competitive mum syndrome. I actually think the whole nature of the education system in our country breeds an underlying edge of competitiveness – amongst the kids just as much as the parents. And I don’t think this is a good thing.

Schools are judged by data. They’re under pressure to get kids to the next level of academic ability in order to prove they’re doing a good job. Results are what matter, so they push and push and push. Sometimes all this pushing isn’t in the best interests of the child. Sometimes all this pushing will just leave a child feeling pressurised, unmotivated, nervous and with no real inspiration to want to learn. Make learning fun and interesting and it seems natural that a kid will be more likely to thrive. However, the current set-up we have doesn’t always make this possible.

As mums and dads we’re well aware of the “Expected” level at which our children should be performing by the end of their first year at primary school. We’re told what our kids need to be doing to reach this level of attainment or push on to the next one. The rule of nature states that we want our kids to do well, so we encourage them to “work hard” at home, so they can “keep up” with their classmates. No matter if they happen to be a summer baby and are almost a full year younger than some of their peers.

One of the things I was most worried about before Frog started school was that she would end up just another number on a spreadsheet. If she struggled to meet some arbitrary level of academic ability would she be marginalised before she was even five years old? Would she still feel valued and know that intelligence and creativity come in all forms? I know she’s only five years old, but even five year olds can pick up on this kind of thing.

So when I was handed my daughter’s first school report last Friday I opened it with mixed feelings. I was determined not to get too bogged down by the levels of attainment next to each area of learning. The things I was really interested in, as a mum of a little girl who’s only just turned five years old, is if she’s making friends at school, if she’s kind and considerate, if she’s happy. Because, I figure, if these things are going right then the rest will follow somewhere along the line.

As it turns out, she’s at the “Expected” level in every area. But this isn’t what really stood out for me. The bits of her report that really gripped me were the comments about her character and nature at school. These comments told me she’s settled in well, has made firm friendships within the class, is kind and considerate, determined and eager to learn. All of these comments meant a million times more to me than the notes grading her to an “Expected” level.

Five years old

It’s been a huge year for Frog. Not only did she start at a school where she didn’t know anyone, but she became a big sister. Luckily for us, the school has been great. It’s a small village school with a lovely atmosphere. All the children know each other’s names. Even at the park, the older ones look out for the younger ones – Frog will happily wave and call hello to year 6 boys and girls as we walk through the village, and the year 6 boys and girls shout a cheery greeting back.

When I was choosing a school I had three things in mind: could we walk there, did the staff and children seem happy and was it a bright, fun, cheerful place to be. Frog’s school is all of those things and more. For me, those positives outweigh any negatives that might come with scoring kids’ academic ability so early or towing the line of an education system that I don’t always think puts the needs of every individual child first. My kid is happy, therefore the school is doing a good job as far as I’m concerned.

 

How about you? Is your child at school yet? How did you feel about your kid’s report this year? Is there an age when the levels of academic attainment start to become more important, do you think? I’d love to know your thoughts. 

 

Comments

  1. says

    When I was teaching, I actually hated having to state whether children were above, below or at expected levels for their age in end of year reports, because I never felt like it ever gave the full picture and did that child justice. I also know that for the three A4 pages I used to write per child, every single parent on report day would flick straight to the back page first and read my personal comments on their child as an individual and as a person. In fact it was a running staffroom joke that we would watch the parents flick straight to back at the school gates, and why did we bother writing those other pages at all.
    And I feel exactly that way as a parent too; yes it’s nice to hear that your child is academically where they are ‘expected’ to be… but it isn’t the be-all-and-end-all of life. I’d much rather read that my child tried hard, was kind and well liked with a good understanding of the rules, than that they were exceeding expectations in every academic area. Book-learning will only get you so far in life; a great attitude and personality will get you ALL THE WAY!!! And it sounds like Frog has made a great start in school, long may is continue. x

    • says

      It’s so interesting to hear a teacher perspective on it – and refreshing to know that your attitude as a parent is the same. You’re so right, success in life is about way more than just academic abilities. That’s something I try to pass on to Frog all the time!

  2. says

    As a teacher, I used to put all my energy into the personal comment section on the reports. At my current school, this is the first thing that parents read and is the largest box on an A4 sheet. Like you, the most important thing for me is that each and every child enjoys coming to school and that learning should be fun and has the capacity to develop those life skills we all need – being emotionally literate, having resilience and demonstrating perseverance. Clearly Frog is well on the way. Nana would have been proud – she always loved reading her grandchildren’s reports.

    • says

      I remember Mum used to send a copy of our reports to Nana every year. I did think of her this year as I would have loved to be able to send her a copy of Frog’s report too!

  3. says

    I received Bud’s first report today and was disappointed if I’m honest, I was expecting a far more comprehensive summary of his year. The personal comments were lovely and I should focus on those but much of the actual progress reporting was quite generic and unfocused. I’ve found this past year to be a tremendous learning curve as a parent and, to be honest, his report feels a little lazy, I was expecting far more of an insight. As you did we received ‘as expected’ for all areas of learning but with no real indication of what this means, is it in terms of the rest of his class? Nationally? I’m altogether feeling rather frustrated by it.

    • says

      I think “Expected” is a national framework for what is perceived (by the government etc) as where each child “should be” by a certain age. Of course this doesn’t take into account that some children in Foundation are barely (or not even) 5 years old, whereas some were 5 almost a year ago. Plus, the boundaries often change so that makes it all the more confusing.

  4. says

    I do agree. My two brought home their school reports today, and I flicked through the pages with tick boxes and letters to the end page where the teacher’s individual comments were written. I am blessed with children who both meet expectations academically, but like you what I want to know is that they are social, have good friends and are happy.

    Sounds like Frog has had a great year. Well done Frog 🙂

    • says

      She did, although it was a shaky start with lots of crying when I left her there in the mornings. Having a child peeled off you crying, with a newborn in tow is not much fun!

  5. says

    We’ve still got all this to come! But I remember when I was at school myself the tutors saying look at the comments not your position in the class but it was all we were really interested in. It’s lovely to hear your experience and Lucy’s that the teachers are writing reports about the children as people more than merely ticking boxes. I have some massive concerns about the way our education system is setting children up in competition with each other; now that they are comparing countries internationally the pressure seems to have mounted even since we were little, and as the UK slips down those league tables the answer from government seems to be to do even more of what doesn’t seem to be working all too well in the first place. There are some truly inspirational teachers around and I wish they would just be left alone to teach the actual children they have in front of them! Right, dismounting soap box right now, sorry for the giant comment!

  6. says

    I’m still waiting for our reports, the twins have just completed Year 2 and they change to a new school in September but luckily with a few friends too. They sat the SATS I’m curious to see how they got on of course I am but above all I want to see them well behaved, attentive and happy. I have always said that I will never push them to be something they are not meant to be but I will always support them as much as I can so they have the best education I can offer. That will mean practising a few times tables over the summer, reading a few fun books and lots of playtime.
    My son, now 27, HATED school and study but today he is a successful chef and I’m very proud of him

  7. Ghislaine Forbes says

    Good old Frog! She has done so well and I will continue with her great grandma’s bragging ways. I am very proud of her. Love ma x

  8. Joby says

    Hiya, I’m a teacher too. Just to echo some of the above thoughts, we are constrained to use specific phrases within the learning/ progress sections. If you think they are bit dull to read imagine writing 30 of them! I do my best to make them sound interesting but at the end of the day, we all know that ” Johnnie can now use column subtraction with three digit numbers ” is not the most important part of the report for most parents. I pour my heart and soul into my teachers comments, and always address a bit to the child (“remember to believe in yourself” ” you can do it!” “Thank you for …” Etc) because from my point of view this is my last chance to influence this child – they will be moving onto different teachers now, and it’s heartbreaking sometimes because you have got to know them so well, and some of them you’ll really miss 🙁 In this last round of reports, a special pupil’s final comment got me crying into my laptop, I couldn’t help it he’s just grown so much it had to be said – sent them to head for her comment – made her cry too – sent home to parent, made them cry with happiness. That’s what it is about for me… Sending a little bit of love home 🙂

    • says

      What a wonderful comment – and you’re proof that teachers work bloody hard (I know, being married to one!) behind the scenes, something they’re not always given credit for. I found the whole of my daughter’s report really interesting, but as you say, it’s the personal comments about her attitude, personality and effort in class which I was most interested in. I think it’s more a comment on the system that teachers even need to focus on certain levels of attainment and conform to the rigid progress sections, rather than a comment on the teachers themselves. I think teachers do a fantastic job – I know I wouldn’t be able to do it!

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