Reporting to Parents
by Jack Dabell on November 29
For me, with my Key Stage 2 background, it’s far too early in the year to be thinking about (let’s be honest) those dreaded end-of-year reports! When it comes to how to report to parents and carers on children’s learning, most of the DfE guidance is about just that – the report given out at the end of the year. Just for fun, let’s review the DfE’s guidance on writing Key Stage end-of-year reports:
Schools have a statutory duty to prepare annual reports for parents before the end of the summer term. The report must start from the day after the last report was given and must cover each pupil’s:
- general progress
- attendance record
Reports for pupils at the end of key stage 1 (KS1) and key stage 2 (KS2) must also include the outcomes of national curriculum assessments…
There we go; it covers two very vague and far reaching areas, followed by their attendance and their SAT results.
For our EYFS practitioners, the end-of-year report comes in the form of the Early Years Foundation Stage Profile (EYFSP) which, according to the EYFSP Handbook, looks like this:
The EYFS profile summarises and describes children’s attainment at the end of the EYFS. It gives:
- the child’s attainment in relation to the 17 early learning goal (ELG) descriptors
- a short narrative describing the child’s 3 characteristics of effective learning.
The ARA states that this profile must be made available to parents and they must have an opportunity to discuss it with the teacher or practitioner who completed the report.
But we all know that end-of-year reports are only one way teachers are reporting to parents. There are other things going on throughout the school year: parent’s evening; parent workshops; talking to them on the playground in the morning and the end of the day; electronic correspondence such as emails, phone calls, learning journals; official meetings set up for a myriad of other reasons.
All of these have the same goal: informing the parent.
That’s the ‘why’. And it’s an important ‘why’ to remember. Not only does the parent have a right to know what their child is doing for a third of their day, but the better informed the parent, hopefully the better provision and follow up the child is getting at home, which is ultimately better for the child. And that’s really what we are all aiming for here.
‘Jack has a lot of potential, but he needs to apply himself more often.’
This is an actual quote from my own year 4 end-of-year report! I believe it featured in the English section. This quote, as well as slight variations of it, also appear in my year 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 reports. Does this indicate I was simply coasting through the vast majority of my schooling, not really putting in my all but demonstrating enough to be seen as potentially good? Or does it indicate a lack of personability and true evaluation when it comes to this kind of formal reporting? Probably a bit of both!
What does that statement really mean? What potential did I have? In what areas specifically? What made you see this potential in the first place? And how should I have been applying myself? What would have supported me in this application of self? You get the point. This nebulous, automated-response-sounding statement leaves a lot to the imagination. And I was guilty of using these types of sentiments in my own report writing days. In fact, there are websites, software and resource packs dedicated to this, promising easy report writing and editable statement banks. John Dabell (no relation) has some pretty choice words on this matter in his article, aptly named, End Of Year Reports Are Not Good Enough. While I do agree with a lot of John’s points when it comes to some reports being impersonal and unhelpful, too easily populated by these hazy, best-fit assertions, I also admit the report writing process is all too fresh in my mind. The time and effort it takes teachers to write the reports should not be understated.
The Telegraph reported that a government advisory panel concluded end-of-year reports are “incredibly burdensome” for teachers and they should be switching to something shorter. There are a few problems here: who decides what’s ‘shorter’? And will a shorter report deliver the information we want to deliver? Moreover, would a formal report still be needed after cutting all the things we deem unnecessary or should we be looking at other ways?
I’ve already mentioned some of those other ways that teachers ‘report’ to parents. I posed the following options (end-of-year reports, electronic communication, ‘Meet the Teacher’ [parent’s evening] and informal chats [on the playground at pick up/drop off]) to our diligent twitter followers with regards to which method they thought ‘informed’ parents and carers most effectively.
Reports and electronic communications got no votes. ‘Meet the Teacher’ got 27% of the votes and informal chats got the remaining 73%. I agree with the masses on this. I had so many important, insightful, helpful discussions with parents off the back of, “Have you got a quick minute?” at the end of the day.
Because there is no set way to do reports and the statutory requirements are fairly thin, they differ wildly from school to school. I’m sure in some schools, the way it’s done is perfectly manageable for staff, but are the parent’s happy? And I’m certain some schools produce reams of detailed written responses which is helpful for parents but exhausting for staff.
Research outlined in that Telegraph article suggests there’s no quantifiable benefit to writing lengthy end-of-year reports but recognises the fundamental link between parent involvement and student achievement.
So, is there an easier way to achieve both? Reporting in a way that informs parents and carers of what they need to know, putting them in a better position to support their children at home, without putting an unnecessary burden on practitioners?
Personally, I think end-of-year reports are archaic, out of touch and unhelpful. Reporting to parents should be a continuous, fluid process, with many different avenues that parents can access as they juggle things like work and family life. And, as a practitioner, if you want it to be, it can be just that! An open door policy, setting up your own meetings with parents, talking to them on the playground, sending positive messages home with the children, using your learning journal software (if you access one) to give daily updates – practitioners can do all of these things, but then they have to spend hours and hours writing formal reports as well.
For a lot of schools, Technology is changing how reporting to parents works. As this blog post from ResourceEd states:
“Technology is already disrupting traditional pedagogy, making lessons more interactive and engaging for students. In an advanced digital age of real-time data, then, how can we make the reporting process more valuable for parents and more efficient for your teachers?”
In my opinion, herein lies the solution. One of the best things about online learning journals is the links they help form and maintain with relatives. The regular updates provide parents with more peace-of-mind and puts them in a stronger position to reinforce the learning at home.
Tapestry users have been able to do 2-year-progress checks and EYFSPs for a while now, but we have given our Reports feature a huge overhaul! You can now do reports for EYFS, Key Stages 1 and 2, Montessori, EYLF, Aistear Transition and VEYLDF.
The Reports on Tapestry allow you to populate the subject sections by using the data you’ve already gathered through observations. You can add pictures, teacher comments, pupil voice, SLT input. They can be digitally signed by staff and commented on by parents. You can choose which sections appear, meaning you could do a report on one specific subject or cover the whole curriculum. There’s even an option for those who prefer to write by hand! Imagine your end-of-year report format, but so much more dynamic.
This might be the compromise we are looking for. Having each child’s journal at your fingertips would eliminate the temptation for using pre-written, impersonal statements. It provides those parents who treasure a tangible summation of the year with something to keep and, finally, it fulfils the current statutory requirements for end-of-year reports.