Reporting to FamiliesNov 12, 2021
Communicating with, and reporting to, parents often involves using educational terms and acronyms. Of course, we must use the proper terminology to avoid confusion, but we also need to recognise that parents may have difficulty understanding their child's school report when schools use academic language without further explanation.
If the reports contain information about the child's targets, these should be easily understood and include any actions that the child, parents, or school should take to meet them. If your reports commonly contain education-specific terms, then consider providing parents with a glossary to explain these terms.
Parent partnership: working with, rather than reporting to
"Parents want easily accessible information about what their children are learning in school and the progress they are making. Yet information is often given to parents without adequate understanding on the part of either parents or school as to how the information should be used, and what response is required from parents. Information for parents should be clear, both in respect of content and in respect of what is expected of parents."
Review of Best Practice in Parental Engagement. Goodall, Vorhaus et al 2010.
As Goodall, Vorhaus et al. found, there's often a miscommunication between school and home about the 'call to action' upon receiving a child's report. If schools really want to use reports as a learning resource and engage parents in their child's learning and development, they must work in partnership with them.
The four cornerstones of working in true partnership with parents are self-awareness, good communication, respect and power-sharing. And it is worth bearing these in mind when thinking about the reporting process and what it can achieve.
- Self-awareness makes it possible to be more aware of the constraints and tensions between others and ourselves. It makes it easier to establish a partnership rather than a hierarchical relationship based on power and control.
- Respect is an essential component of any partnership and necessary to acknowledge where all parties are coming from.
- Good communication skills used together with self-awareness and respect are the tools we use with parents to manage expectations, build relationships and address any issues with a child's learning or behaviour.
- Power-sharing is an extension of respect. It does not mean handing over power; simply sharing it. Inviting parents to participate in the sharing and decision-making process demonstrates that the parent's perspective is of equal value to the child's wellbeing and future development.
"Parents can now access online, real-time data for their own children, leading to family conversations which have had a beneficial effect on behaviour."
Engaging Parents in Raising Achievement Do Parents Know They Matter? Harris and Goodall 2007
The research suggests that 'i-reporting' is beneficial in reducing teacher workload and making information more accessible for parents.
Having a system where parents can log in and see how their child is doing can also improve relationships between home and school. Parents are kept in the loop, and there are no nasty surprises in the end of term report. But beware of the closed cycle trap! Online reporting is a great tool for parental engagement, but it is not the end of the journey. As Harris and Goodhalll stated in their research: "Parental engagement is not about engaging with the school but with the learning of the child." So, make sure you are giving parents the opportunity to do just that in your report writing.
Time to change the narrative?
So, what does reporting look like at your school? Do you use online reporting and real-time data? Are you fans of the traditional annual written reports? How much work goes into them – are they personalised or victims of cut and paste and software assist? What are the common problems and issues you have with report writing? And ultimately, are your reports effective at engaging parents? How do you know? How are you measuring this?
For most schools, the format for reporting to parents has been the same for many years. Although old reports can be amusing to look back on, is it time to think about reporting differently? The DfE states that schools must provide at least one annual report for each pupil. That report must contain information about the student's progress and a brief overview of achievements, strengths, and developmental needs. But the good news is that schools can do this however they like. As long as you use reports to support learning, it's ok to think outside the box. For an example of something different altogether, look at FreeFlowInfo, which facilitates continuous positive conversation at home as an alternative to the traditional report.
Reviewing your school's style of reporting
Reports take a significant amount of time and effort to produce, so make them worthwhile. Commit time to review how well they work as a learning resource.
Perhaps staff could review this during a staff meeting. Look at some past (anonymised) written reports and read them through a parent's eyes.
PEN recommends asking yourself the following questions when reviewing existing reports:
- What does this report say about the child's progress?
- Does this information feel specific to the child, or is it very generic?
- Is the language clear and jargon-free?
- Is the format straightforward and uncomplicated?
- Is it clear what the child, the parents, and the school need to do to improve attainment?
- Have I included personalised content? (Even just one meaningful, personalised comment can do wonders for building relationships with parents!)
- Are there any generic statements that sound like they could have been cut and pasted?
- Do I know what parents want to know about when it comes to their child's learning?
- Can parents respond, and can I show them my response to their comments?
And remember, parents aren't solely interested in their child's progress; they want to know their child is safe and cared for at school. School reports are a great way to build trust in this regard.
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