An open letter to teachers and headteachers on the festive season…

Posted on: 13 Dec 2016

As the term draws to an end, Alex Osiatynski, Head at Bilton Grange Preparatory School, discusses the value of report writing and encourages teachers to take a moment to treasure these reports which will form important memories for the children.

And so Christmas is drawing nearer; turkey lunches, carol rehearsals (is yours a service or a concert?!), secret santas, the staff party…

Assembly and chapel themes up and down the land have been religiously downplaying the materiality of the festive season, focusing on Advent and the concept of waiting and being patient. However it is all too easy for all of us - all of us who work in schools that is - to be impatient to get to the end of term, to be able to relax after the long haul since September, to be able to shut the school down from all the bugs, viruses and coughs which permeate our hallways in early December.

And yes, the impatience to get through all the report writing, to see the number left dwindle down to zero and to breathe a sigh of relief. I'm not sure if there are many, if any, schools left doing their reports by the old-fashioned paper method, although I’m sure there are still plenty who print them out and post them. I’m not sure if there are any heads out there who lead the way in self-inflicted suffering by finishing reports after the end of term, although the impossibility of catching a colleague to ascertain if they really did mean to say that rules this out in my book in any case, however hectic the final few days always become, regardless of the planning and diary-emptying we prepare. I guiltily caught myself having these impure thoughts as our term rumbled to its conclusion.

The reading and writing of reports are of special significance, both in our knowledge of our pupils and in our communication with parents. Those of us heads who still write substantive comments on all or a significant proportion of our pupils’ reports understand how each and every one will be pored over - we hope - by parents together with their children, and how each must tell a story both celebratory and coaxing to further improvement and success. As well as relationship-building (or indeed forming) our reporting to parents also allows us to nudge our school cultures in the direction we choose, with a pertinent comment here and a stern word of advice there, or a more general exhortation to a group of children to step up and demonstrate leadership.

Perhaps even more important than my own comment is the final 'sanity check' I do of my colleagues' subject and tutor reports, ensuring that nothing untoward might be misread into them, that there is no inappropriate flippancy or the dreaded 'copy & paste', the most egregious version of which causes inadvertent gender reassignment! The excellent Masters in Educational Leadership course at Buckingham devotes a good deal of time to leading the report-writing process, and pushing the culture of the common room in the right direction by ensuring that reports are detailed, diagnostic and with not a wafflish blandishment in sight. Ensuring that our colleagues give reports the time and consideration they need - one tutor told me he spends an hour reviewing and writing reports on each tutee - further reinforces the need for us heads to lead from the front and do likewise.

Whilst it is easy to look over the hill to the holidays at the expense of the here and now, teachers and headteachers, take a moment wherever you are in your schools, value and treasure your report writing as well as all the festive occasions which will form important, bonding memories for the children. The burden of getting to the end of the report season is a reminder of the weight of responsibility we willingly take on, as educators, for the future of the children in our care.

And if you’re wondering how on earth I have the time to write this then, yes, I plead guilty: as manic as the end of term was, we concluded term with our carol service last Friday afternoon and so I am now sitting behind my desk able to look back in relative peace and serenity (schools are such calm places without any teachers or children in them!) over the term now gone - with the reports committed to the Parent Portal. For those of you still going, in the words of Mr Gary Barlow… have a little patience!

Alex Osiatynski

About Alex Osiatynski

Alex Osiatynski is head of Bilton Grange, a co-educational day and boarding prep school near Rugby, Warwickshire.