The school reports have arrived home. There’s always a hushed moment while the child watches as you scanning the thing. Is it good or bad news?
Yet, it’s never easy to get the big picture from a quick glance at a report. Here in Scotland, under the new Curriculum for Excellence, you have to know what it means, for example, to be consolidating in the third curriculum level or secure in the forth.
Whatever happened to A, B, C – or a simple mark out of 100?
But the really baffling stuff happens when you try to work out what the teachers are trying to tell you in their comments. Is there a hidden message or some kind of code for parents to decipher?
My son’s teacher writes that he’s “keen to share his ideas and opinions”, but is she really trying to tell me that he’s a chatterbox who won’t shut up?
Another says: “In drama, he uses his humour and imagination to create expressive body and facial movements whilst experimenting with different characters’ voices.” Surely that’s another way of describing the class clown?
Both of my sons seem to have been given glowing reports and, maybe, I should just accept it and take their complements at face value. But part of me can’t help looking for something else. Does “a pleasure to teach” simply mean “he doesn’t cause any trouble”?
Have the jokes become such a part of everyday life that we now believe them? You know. When the teacher says “Samantha is a natural leader”, what she really means is “Samantha is a bossy little madam” or “Paul should work on his organisational skills” meaning “Paul would lose his head if it wasn’t stuck on”.
It might be the case. When speaking anonymously a few teachers were prepared to confess to using some euphemisms to soften the blow.
One admitted: “I use ‘lively and sociable’ when I mean ‘a pain in the backside’.”
Another added: “’Tries hard’ equals ‘not very bright, but plods on’ and ‘enjoys the more active tasks’ which means ‘I can’t get them to do their written work for love nor money’.”
It seems the teachers don’t want to come straight out and say what they mean, perhaps for fear of facing the wrath of a parent or upsetting a child, so they leave it for us parents to work it out.
I’m sure I’d rather have it straight – the truth rather than hints and suggestions, that might not even be there at all.
It almost makes me hanker for a time when teachers had no reservations about saying what they meant – possibly to taunt their pupils into proving them wrong.
There are famous examples of the great and good whose teachers failed to spot their potential.
Winston Churchill’s teacher at St George’s School Ascot said: “He has no ambition. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere.”
Of successful novelist Jilly Cooper, her teacher said: “Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard which she has failed to maintain.”
And Beatle John Lennon’s report stated: “Certainly on the road to failure… hopeless… rather a clown in class.”
It seems to me that the education system and parents between them have got into a bit of pickle over reports.
Our end of term assessment might read: “Must do better. Honest exchanges are needed for the term ahead but only if parents agree not to get stroppy and take it personally.”