It’s the end of yet another school year. Though many state schools in the UK don’t finish until the end of today, many will have already started summer holidays early amidst rising Covid cases. As if we didn’t have enough to worry about with the end-of-year gifts for teachers and figuring out what to do with the kids over the summer holidays!
Love them or hate them, if it hasn’t already appeared in the school bag or in your inbox, the school report is on it’s way. As a former teacher myself, I have to admit… I H-A-T-E SCHOOL REPORTS. Yes, writing them was long and time-consuming but my dislike for them goes much, much deeper.
Reading the Report
The school report is a statutory requirement meant to provide an accurate assessment (for schools and shared with parents) of a child’s academic attainment (a result on a test or assessment at a particular point in time), progress (the change in academic results over time) and achievement (how attainment and progress compare to what your child is capable of). For most primary schools, alongside effort grades, this will be reported in terms of the following:
Working towards the expected standard for their age
Working at the expected standard for their age
Working above the expected standard for their age
Working below the expected standard for their age
Expected standard, in this case, is the median, or middle point, of all results for all children of the same age across England. The measure does not take into account a child’s personal circumstances, family situation, mental health or SEND needs. In most examples, the school report doesn’t take into account a child’s mental wellbeing either. As it exists, the academic standard is based on all children
Reporting on Behaviour
Good educators know that academic achievement is simply a by-product of doing right by a child. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs a person’s basic needs (food, water, warmth, rest, security, sense of safety) need to be met before their psychological needs (belongingness, love, close relationships, friends, feelings of being respected, admired and accomplished). Essentially, if a child’s basic and psychological needs are not met, they are unable to achieve their potential – academic or otherwise. When their needs ARE met, it shouldn’t surprise you that children excel in all areas of their lives.
However, it’s not only academic achievement (or underachievement) that gets reported on. Comments on behaviour in school often feature heavily too. In school reports, behaviour is often commented on as a problem with the child, rather than an indicator of how the child may be feeling. Our feelings begin in our body as a physiological response to other people, our physical environment and the way in which we respond to the events of the day. Children who find it difficult to settle into their work, or those who seem to be finding learning difficult, have a lot more going on with them than it appears. Most times, it has nothing to do with their learning.
Rather than an affront to the teacher or the school, a child’s behaviour communicates how they are feeling about themselves and the world around them. Yet this is not how the report reads and it’s certainly not used as a measure of a child’s wellbeing within schools. Instead of being seen as a request from a child for help, support or understanding children are vilified and labelled as disruptive for behaviours that don’t fit within a classroom. Parents too are shamed and judged on their children’s behaviours, rather than supported in providing a mental, emotional and physical environment their children can flourish in.
“After my son experienced exclusion from the mainstream school he was attending, I thought it would be best to move him into a private specialist provision. I hoped that they would be able to demonstrate a better understanding of the trauma that has affected his development. I fought hard to get him in to his current provision but I have also thought with the right support he could cope at a mainstream. I’m just not willing to risk another change.
When he arrived at his new school I expected the staff to liaise with other agencies and deepen their understanding of his sensitive needs. This wasn’t the case though and there were so many thoughtless and basic errors that just enraged me – There was a lack of any good communication on how transitions between year groups could be made less threatening; They were making Mother’s Day cards in February and at the beginning of COVID, they decided that he was going to be placed in his own bubble of total isolation. They literally did not know what to do with him.
I often felt like the annoying parent, constantly emailing and telephoning. I realised that if I didn’t interfere something would go very wrong. I wasn’t being annoying, I was advocating. There is a difference.
My child’s picture should never have been put on a cloud, his face for everyone to see. My child’s home reading should never have been labelled as disappointing. My child should never have been excluded. Because of the shame he felt for being excluded, he told me he wanted to die. He was seven years old. No child is the same and every child is good at something. No child should feel less than what they are. Sadly, for a variety of reasons, some do and schools need to support those children.
Every time I discuss education on my Instagram account @im.winging.it.too, I’m inundated with messages ranging from understanding my concerns to absolute despair at the lack of support our children receive in mainstream education.
There are so many easy and simple things schools could do to support our children. I know that many schools do a great job, however, many don’t and their systems are very archaic. School reports and behaviour management procedures ignite our children’s trauma and trample on their self-worth.
Professionals can potentially spend more time with our children in their formative years than we do as parents. It is their duty to lift their minds and their hearts so that when change comes, they can cope maybe a little better than they did the last time. Each challenge allows them to grow into a resilient adult who’s able to manage their emotions and make good choices. A school that realises the value of connections is where I’d like my children to be.”
In short, take your child’s report with an extra large pinch of salt. For the most part, it’s a measure used by school leaders within schools to track overall progress. Remember that it does not take into account the uniqueness of your child or their experiences. It also shouldn’t be an assessment of your ability to parent your child. What’s important is that your child is supported to thrive – at home and at school. If you feel your child is not being supported to thrive in school, we’d like to hear from you.
We’re currently working with schools across the UK to raise awareness about mental and emotional wellbeing and the role of play in helping children feel safe. Our mission is to support schools to identify, understand and address the need beneath the behaviour. If you have a school-based experience you’d like to share, please share it here.
Beacon Services support families to develop, rebuild and repair relationships using talk-based Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) and play-based Theraplay® techniques. These techniques work by helping children and parents, caregivers, teachers or therapists to communicate and connect in fun, playful and meaningful ways.
Here at Beacon Family Services, we know that helping others starts with helping yourself. We’ve created a resources for adults and teens to help. Click on the link for access to Regulation for Adults. You can download it here for free .
As well as providing in person support for families, schools and organisations to develop and build relationships through play, we also have a range of resources to support relationship building at home. Our easy-to-use ‘Cards To Help You Connect’ resources have been developed by professionals and are available to purchase on our online shop.
Lisa Merryweather-Millard is a former Assistant Headteacher, educationalist, creative strategist, editor of parenting magazine, The Little Things Magazine, and a Director of Beacon Services Resources. She also runs Rather Nice Design, a multi-disciplinary design studio based near Bath.