Diary of a headteacher: Time for the annual reports

Written by: Tom Donohoe | Published:
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No matter what approach we take, annual pupil reports are a mammoth undertaking. Good support for our teachers is a must

I received a very nice text from one of my young teachers this week thanking me for the day off she had been given to start writing her annual reports. I am sure that every one of us remembers having to write reports and also remembers what a time-consuming job it is! I have tried it in so many different ways over the years – writing the full report on each kid, doing it subject by subject, working at 4am for three hours each day, using just the half-term week to do them. But however I did it, I always found it a mammoth undertaking!

Of course, in the first 10 years of my career we were all writing the reports by hand. There was definitely no cutting and pasting going on, never mind the ability to “find and replace”!

Remembering how onerous I found report writing, I have tried to do all I can as a headteacher to minimise the pain for my teachers. In my early years we trimmed down what was a four-side extravaganza to one page, with just two sides of writing. Three or four years ago we cut it again so that now our teachers write just one side of A4.

They have just four boxes to complete: English, Maths, Strengths, Successes and Future Targets, and Personal and Social Development. The reverse page has a box for each of the Foundation Subjects and in each are details of what has been taught in each curriculum area.

I do insist that where a child has particular strengths in a foundation subject that this is written about in Strengths, Successes and Future Targets as I know parents want to hear about a child’s ability in sport, art, music etc. I also changed the name from an Annual Report to a Record of Achievement – while it is good to identify a small number of targets, I really do want the document to be positive in tone.

Recently, I rooted through some of my own school reports hoping to find a few gems. I am not short of quotes, but sadly they are not “positive in tone”. One of my favourites is from my German teacher in 5th year (year 11 to you youngsters). They wrote: “Thomas seems to have a definite dislike for homework! In any event there can be no other reason for the lack of homework returned so far – hopefully this will improve.”

To be fair, he was right. As a teenage boy I didn’t like homework, as a parent of two kids I don’t like homework, and as a headteacher I am not much of a fan of it either!

My woodwork teacher clearly wasn’t hugely impressed with me either as he stated that if I wanted to be entered for the final exam (CSE) I would have to pay for it myself as he “couldn’t justify the school paying for the entrance fee”. Again it was hard to argue with him, in fact at the back of this report I had obviously been asked to write a self-assessment and I had written: “When I chose this subject I thought everyone else would be as bad at it as me – but they aren’t!”

Please don’t let me make you think that all my reports were awful, there was glowing ones in PE and sport and my various tutors often referred to leadership abilities. However, my experience of school can be summed up in two economics reports – one written in the 5th year by the worst teacher I ever had and the other written less than 12 months later at sixth form college by the best teacher I ever had.

I received a U (Ungraded) for attainment and a zero for effort in the first and a double A grade in the second. The subject was exactly the same, so was the workload and I can’t imagine I had changed that much. The only difference was the quality of the teacher and the respect I had for the second teacher – the excellent Mr (Andrew) Norriss. Of course, I went on to do okay and Mr Norriss did even better – writing a series of hit sitcoms as well as some award-winning children’s books.

  • Tom Donohoe is the headteacher of Anton Junior School in Hampshire.


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