How school reports can change a school and … have impact!

4 Questions to start with:

  1. How much do school reports make a difference?
  2. If parents read school reports, how can they / do they respond?
  3. If schools are not analysing the impact reports have, is the entire reporting process a waste of time?
  4. If report writing is not popular, can we find a more useful way to spend teacher time?

I am currently reading a book by Vivian Robinson on Student-centred Leadership (2011).  It has a section on how school leaders and teachers collect and use data with the driving question: how much data do we collect that is not used (has impact) and can we use data in more instructionally productive ways? When I read this question, school reports leapt to mind as I have never really felt student learning, behaviour, or performance has ever significantly changed after a round of reporting. It maybe a legal requirement of schools, but few if any communities explore how they can or are having an impact. They are generally understood as just something schools have to do. 

Report on future improvements not the past.

My school looked at some statistics a couple of years ago to find over 20% of reports were not opened and from my own experience, I know that most parents only have the time to glance at reports and if no significant disaster is evident, the report gets quickly filed in either a pile of random bills, the fridge, or in some cases the bin. 

Has the legal requirement to report created a culture of wasted opportunities and workload where ‘emergency tests’ are often taking place in the run-up to reporting season just to produce enough data for reports. Teacher comments are famously either personal but badly written or comment banks get used to improve the english which are ignored for being too generic. The reality is that reports need an overhaul centred on creating a desire to write them, read them and a focus on future next steps rather than simply reporting the past.

I propose reports focus on two key activities:

  1. Teaching as inquiry (Teaching inquiry into the impact of their practice)
  2. Assessment for Learning (Students’ progress awareness + next steps)

The reality of creating improvements in the classroom is essentially teachers running detailed diaries of their teaching practice and inquiring into the impact of those practices using assessment data to pick out exactly what is and isn’t working in the classroom. This requires an inquiry cycle where follow-up diaries of practice are referenced against future successes. But how do teachers find the time?

The reality in schools is that too much time is being used collecting report data that isn’t analysed strategically (by teachers or parents) for its impact on future teaching and learning. This leaves no time for writing teaching diaries and analysing assessment data in direct relation to teaching practice. Let’s remove the former and do the latter.

Historically, when a teacher reports on what the class has been doing, no parent has any idea how it relates to best practice. When a child receives a grade, no parent, and often the child, has any idea how that relates to their potential. Given what is covered in the “data” chapter of the book I wonder whether a new form of reporting could create a significantly more positive and productive culture. I wonder if communities would be better served by teachers writing a single report (A paragraph) on how they are currently improving the learning environment and then students could add to the report their progress (based on Visible Learning practices) and how the teacher’s current improvements are helping their learning. This would mean teachers and students would each just write one report comment per class respectively all focused on next steps. This saves hours of teachers’ time. 

A professional inquiry culture analyses and implements practises that build more successful learning environments by recording in detail exactly what takes place in the classroom for reference against future achievements. Add to this Assessment for Learning practices and students have a much more clear and personal understanding of their current success and next steps and can articulate this accordingly. Here we would have a personal and affective report that parents would want to read and could use. The time saved not running and marking tests for grades and entering hundreds of data points could be spent analysing for and reporting on improvements and progress. 

So I propose that rather than arbitrary percentages, grades, and comments that focus everyone too much on the past and not the future, I propose that we report only on how everyone (Teachers and students) are improving learning and the classroom environment. This would be more personal to all involved and thus produce reports that get read and … have impact!
Here’s a sketch …