School Report Writing: 10 Top Tips and Expert Advice

children holding hand up in class

How to write a school report

We would all like to think that parents thoroughly read through our carefully crafted pupil school reports. How they must appreciate the hours we put into writing them! However, the reality is that reports are often not as cherished as we would hope. It’s very easy to get them wrong. Wrong name in a copy and paste. Blanket statements for the class such as “We had a great time at Arundel Castle”, then finding out the student didn’t attend that day…

But it’s also just as easy to get them right. Being specific. Writing in simple language. Providing opportunities for parents to get more involved in their child’s education. All of these elements help to create a great school report.

Reports take time

Unfortunately, school report writing can take time. To make them as personal as we would like to, they can take hours. We want to add personal touches. We want to tailor everything to every time. But if you are writing them frequently, they can eat into quite a few weekends. Writing them termly, or bulk writing huge reports yearly is very time consuming. Automation can help nowadays. No longer do you have to use the clunky systems of the past – many modern assessment systems can take away some of the strain. Ongoing communications with parents can streamline reports, so you don’t have to include those things which have already been discussed.

Personalising school reports can go wrong

Despite all attempts to the contrary, personalisation can go wrong. It can be difficult when trying to remember everything about every child over the whole year. For those teachers who teach one subject to many children it is even harder. Remembering exactly who did what at the nativity performance is difficult in June!

Teachers and parents each have a different focus
Teachers may spend ages pouring over assessment data to pick out some key targets and achievements. Some parents may want to jump to the end of the report to see if their child has loads of friends. Other parents do want to have detailed information on their child’s successes and want to help from home. A lack of detail in this area could leave them feeling like they cannot build on the recommendations.

So how to get it right?

Here are 10 top tips to assist you with school report writing:

  1. Ensure nothing is a total surprise. A parent should not be finding out via the report anything which will come as a total shock – good or bad! If their child has been off task 80% of the time, they shouldn’t be finding out just before the holidays. This doesn’t help them to support changes. The report should build on and confirm the ongoing conversations, adding to the parental engagement which has gone beforehand throughout the year.
  2. Keep it simple. Avoid the jargon and acronyms which abound in education. Add details and simple explanations where necessary. A glossary of terms relevant to the school could even be part of the template. This can be especially helpful if you have your own assessment terms. You may also want to add a quick guide to terms such as “fronted adverbials” also.
  3. Be specific. Statements should be simple, and in layman’s terms, but be based on solid evidence. “Joshua did well this year” is not specific enough. Parents may like to hear such a lovely statement, but it gives them nothing to engage with. They will end up asking Joshua what he did well in… which Joshua may also not be sure of the details.
  4. Use the ‘4 parts’ rule. Each statement in a school report should include 4 elements: the achievement/success; evidence of that success; the target; resources to help meet the target. So, a four part phrase might be: “Joshua has progressed well in handwriting. He is now joining most of his letters in each word. His next step is to keep the sizing of his handwriting consistent. A great website to help model this is…” All too often we stop after 3 parts: success, evidence, target. This leaves parents stuck when they want to support that target. Directing them to resources which match the school’s curriculum helps the parents.
  5. Follow school guidance. Every school has their own ideas around what should be included. How many words to include, for example, and usually a template. If you’re new to a school but want to get started on reports early, make sure to ask for some examples from last year to get a sense of what is expected. You may think you got the reports done before the holidays, but there is nothing more deflating than finding you need to rewrite them completely.
  6. There is a place for automation. Teachers may have been stung by old report writing software. It may have messed up genders or come up with some grammatically terrible sentences. Many modern assessment platforms have much more advanced techniques and tools available now. You spend the term and year updating data for the graphs and assessment information. Why not then allow the system to take some of your workload? Your assessment knows exactly where the pupils are, based on your RAG ratings of statements and such. They will output sentences to reports which follow your own school’s curriculum and it knows who is a girl or a boy! And gets the names right every time. Technology, at its very best, is efficient, which leaves you more time to write the personal statement parts.
  7. Add resources and links. Again, some systems have a reporting online option. This links parents to resources which are curriculum-linked. This means that for each target they are directed to high-quality resources to use at home. This can turn your school report writing into a significant part of your teaching. Also, your learning and assessment cycle. Parents being involved in their child’s education makes a huge difference. Where you are printing reports, you can add short links. These could be simple recommended resources such as YouTube channels, or websites and even apps, which you know are educationally sound.
  8. Make the layout easy to follow. The school template can be important in making sure reports are easy to understand. If there are grades for some subjects and not others, a design change can help to make that seem strange. As with marketing rules, there are ways to bring the parent’s eye to the key information they need to see. At Learning Ladders, we have worked really hard to ensure our reports stand out. They are based on these principles outlined. You may not have control over your school template, but you can ensure sentences are concise and paragraphs are not too long. These make the report much easier to read.
  9. Don’t overdo it. A few key successes and a few targets are great. Make it manageable. A list of 20 successes might seem wonderful but will be very overwhelming. For the core subjects 3-5 successes and 3 key targets are plenty. For foundation subjects 3 successes and 1 or 2 things to work on would be perfect.
  10. Treat it like a parent’s evening. When writing the personal part of the report, I like to pretend the parent is in front of me, as though I am saying everything to their face, imagining their reaction. That helps me to be enthusiastic and realistic – which comes across even on the page. This also helps me to write each pupil’s report statement in one go, rather than going back and forth to edit (which is when I am more likely to make mistakes!). I try to also imagine their questions and add a bit of context or answer those upfront, as part of the report.

To find out how Learning Ladders makes school report writing easy, whilst keeping all those individual touches that parents love, have a read about our automated pupil reports.

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