A few weeks ago my school held a Parents’ Evening for Year 10. I spoke to the parents of about half of my sixty students and, as always, they went away clear on the progress of their child, aware of any achievements and any concerns, and clear about how their child can continue to improve. 

So far, so normal.

The problem is that the week of the Parents’ Evening was in the middle of the same fortnight we were asked to write our Year 10 reports. This meant that I would either be writing the reports for the students I saw at Parents’ Evening just a few days before, in which case I would be telling them what I had already written, or I would be writing them a few days afterwards, in which case I would be simply regurgitating in writing what I had already told them verbally.

In my own particular timetable, it just so happened that I had no new lessons with my Year 10s until the end of the final day I could write about them, meaning I would literally have no new information at all to add to my written reports from what was said at Parents’ Evening.

My solution was simple: I wrote a detailed report for all the students I didn’t see at Parents’ Evening, and for the ones I did I simply wrote a version of the following: “This report was written in the same week as Parents’ Evening and there has been no significant change in your child’s progress since that discussion.”

I saw no problem in doing this. The stock phrase was still accompanied by a current grade and an overall grade for attitude and effort. It was not giving them nothing. There was still a report. A reported grade, attitude, and a comment signposting the parents to the detailed conversation we’d already had days before (for which most of them wrote extensive notes). And, of course, if a parent did, upon reading the report, email me back asking for more information, I would gladly respond, as I would similarly respond to such requests at any time of the year, regardless of it being “report season”.

From my point of view, to timetable reports in this way was to make me duplicate the same work twice, and as a busy teacher I simply had other, more important, things to get on with than needlessly repeating myself.

So instead of wasting time doing redundant reporting I marked some practice GCSE questions from those same Year 10 students. I marked some A-level work. I ran a lunchtime club and some lunchtime interventions. I started work on my form’s pastoral reports. I began planning new resources for the first Year 11 undergoing new GCSEs.

But yesterday a member of SLT came to tell me that the Head was unhappy with my approach to these reports. They said I needed to “just add a few lines of detail”.

It was the “just” that annoyed me. Like just writing another thirty reports was no big deal. Like I didn’t have anything else to do in a term still three weeks from being over, with exam classes reaching their crescendo, another Parents’ Evening looming, lower school reports on the horizon, more work needed on that new GCSE course, and a new A-Level spec not even started yet. 

I was reminded that, legally, I had to write a report, and I pointed out that a) I had (as they still got the written current grade and attitude, as well as the written phrase ensuring them that I had nothing new to report since our meeting), and that b) I didn’t have a legal duty to report; the school did. And we were. A comprehensive school report with updates and information about all subjects – including mine. Yes, thirty of my sixty students had only that minor comment instead of a blow-by-blow account, but it still very clearly communicated how they were doing alongside the other useful information.

If language is just symbols communicating meaning it is unclear why one set of symbols have more value than another when they both represent the exact same information?

I was then told that it just looks odd, as I was the only teacher to do it. 

I wasn’t sure why that was my problem? If my colleagues wanted to waste their time repeating themselves they could, but it didn’t mean I had to. If anything, I was disappointed that so many of them had just blindly accepted the extra and uneccesary workload and wasted their time so willingly. Especially considering the number of them grumbling about it in the staffroom!

We went back and forth like that for a while, but it was a stand off I knew I couldn’t win. In the end, I agreed to a half-hearted compromise: I would amend the reports before they went out if I had the time. But they would not be a priority. The Year 10 parents have had their pound of flesh from me already and it’s time for other parents – and other students – to get their turn. 

I will honestly try to add something if I have the time, but not if it means sacrificing something more important.

I still wonder though, if the reports go out as they are, will any of the parents I talked to in such depth at Parents’ Evening really feel shortchanged? Or would they, as I suspect, see my words, shrug their shoulders, remember our detailed chat at Parents’ Evening, and just say “yep, that makes sense. No change there. There was nothing else he could write and I already know everything I need to know” before happily moving on to the next subject?

Because either we’re saying the Parents’ Evening chat itself was a waste of time, or it wasn’t. If Parents’ Evenings are important and effective, then this written report is redundant. If a separate written report is necessary, then Parents’ Evenings are redundant.

Either way – one of them has to give, and if you foolishly schedule two forms of reporting back to parents in the same term then you have to accept that teachers are under no obligation to re-do a job they have already done perfectly well the first time.

With literally nothing to report, it seems bizarre that my school is insisting I spend my time on that nothing when there is so much something that needs to be done.