School report season is almost upon us. But do they really serve a purpose? One teacher says no.

Gabbie Stroud is a freelance writer, novelist and recovering teacher. After years of juggling the demands of the primary classroom, she became disenchanted and disillusioned, eventually making the painful decision to leave the profession she had loved. In 2016, her critical commentary of Australia’s education system was published in Griffith Review’s Edition 51 Fixing the System, which went on to be shortlisted for a Walkley Award.

In conjunction with the release of her latest book, Dear Parents, she answers our questions about one of the most common forms of communication parents receive from school: end-of-term reports.

Gabbie Stroud headshot

What do you think are the functions of school reports?

School reports are one avenue of communication between teachers and parents. Each school delivers reports in a slightly different way, so they can be a “one-way street” with teachers “reporting” to parents. Or they can be a “two-way street” with parents being invited to write comments back as a means of replying. Some schools schedule interviews just after reports are issued as a means of engaging parents with a follow-up discussion. Most reports centre around grades and grading so they generally provide graded information. The landscape of school reports has changed dramatically over the past decade. They must remain impersonal and relate entirely to the syllabus outcomes.

What should parents expect to glean (or not glean) from school reports?

School reports can be difficult documents for parents to understand and unpack, particularly since they have to relate so closely to syllabus outcomes. For parents to really understand a school report they need to understand the syllabus that the outcome was drawn from. Parents can glean a basic indication of how their child is performing at school as related to the outcomes. A well-written report will give parents some direction as to where the student needs to go next. On the whole, school reports won’t tell parents very much about a child’s effort, behaviour in class, social skills, attitude toward school or their general disposition at school. That’s again because the report must be linked to measurable outcomes. It seems a shame to me because many of those qualities link directly to a child’s learning and are important insights for a parent to know.

How can school reports better inform parents to plan for the new school term (or not)?

In their current format, reports are probably not that useful for informing parents as to how to prepare for the new school year or term.

What do you recommend parents plan to ask at parent-teacher interviews, and look for in terms of their kids’ achievements?

Ask at parent-teacher interviews:

  • Is my child happy at school? In the classroom? In the playground?
  • Has my child made progress? In what areas? Are there areas where progress has been slow?
  • Can my child work independently? Can they work cooperatively?
  • Does my child put in a good effort?
  • Does my child contribute in class? Can they ask for help and direction?
  • What sorts of things could we/I do at home to support the learning that’s happening in the classroom?
  • What do you notice about my child?

Look for in terms of achievement:

Progress! Try not to compare your child with another child. “Measure” their achievement through the progress they make. Progress can take many forms: Reading more challenging texts/books, applying more effort, completing work independently, asking a question in class . . . all of these could be indicators of growth, development and progress. It varies for each child.

What is the role of academic excellence?

Good question. A better question is: Why do we learn? Is it purely to achieve “excellence” and what is excellence? There’s always going to be someone who knows more than you—so looking at academic excellence as something that can be ranked and “competed for” is problematic. It is important though that we teach students that it is a worthwhile task to pursue excellence, but that concept needs to be taught in a way that doesn’t create a competition around the idea of excellence.

Dear Parents book cover

Gabbie’s book Dear Parents (Allen & Unwin, 2020) is available now.

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