Even after seven years of reading between the lines, I remain bewildered by my children's school reports.
Next week they will emerge from their primary school class carrying A4 envelopes holding their end of year school reports. Each will contain two painstakingly typed pages of A4 paper, packed with bizarre pick 'n' mix phrases.
All I really want is confirmation that each child is 'a pleasure to teach', enjoying school and trying their best. But instead, if previous years are anything to go by, I'll discover everything and nothing.
Take last year's reports from their primary school. In PE 'E demonstrated excellent control of movements' (she can run) and in design and technology (making musical instruments out of cereal boxes and plastic bottles) she 'demonstrated her ability to manipulate materials to create her own ideas' (she can glue things). 'Ollie was able to use space appropriately during PE sessions and when negotiating with other children during play activities' (he doesn't knock them over) and he 'enjoyed travelling around, through, over and under a range of balancing and climbing equipment' (you can't get him off the climbing frame). L's report had my all-time favourite line – 'with support he should be able to reach the expectations of his age group'. Translation - he still can't read so, slob mum, why don't you put a bit of effort in over the summer holidays?
The days of 'could do better' are most definitely over. Now we parents need Miss Marple like abilities to read between the lines of school double speak. 'It's all such sloppy jargon,' complains Julia, mum to seven-year-old Elizabeth. '"In music Elizabeth has listened and responded to a wide range of music" just means she has ears. Her PE report says "she shows an awareness of herself and space and others". I think that must mean she's got eyes.'
'It's not the teachers' fault,' insists mum-of-three Jane, who has insider knowledge as a teaching assistant. 'They have to show they've covered everything in the national curriculum. That's why you get told your child can count to 20 when you know he can count to 100. They're just ticking the boxes with a few personal details thrown in if you're lucky. Most schools have a policy of never writing anything negative so you have lines like 'John has issues with concentration but he's very good at colouring in'. It's always look on the bright side policy.'
Thanks to the Internet, teachers can now find a collection of chirpy phrases to ease their annual report writing chore. That must be why no primary school pupil ever simply does something now. They're all too busy 'using', 'demonstrating', 'gaining confidence in' and 'developing' their skills and abilities. It all sounds totally exhausting. No wonder my children are zonked every afternoon.
'Report writing is a nightmare,' says Kelly, who's in her first year of teaching Year 2s and herself a mum of two. 'I've been working on them every night for six weeks. I wanted to give parents a clear indication of how each child was doing and their strengths and weaknesses, but it's impossible to do that within the school's accepted formula.'
On a recent trip home my parents unearthed my old school reports from nearly 30 years ago, amidst much mirth. The acerbic put downs (' has shown neither ability nor interest in maths') and carefully constructed character assassinations ('I would like to say I have enjoyed having her in my class, but that would be untrue') have most definitely been relegated to history. In today's positive school speak I'd 'sometimes have trouble recognising numbers' and 'be a bubbly member of the class'.
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