"School reports – reliable indicators of future success?" | Portsmouth High School

“School reports – reliable indicators of future success?”

Professor John Gurdon this week was awarded the Nobel Prize for his services to cloning. During the various interviews about his award he admitted to having framed one of his school reports from Eton which said he would never make a scientist. He had scored a mere 2 marks out of a possible 50 in a biology test and was ranked bottom of his year of 250 boys. So what does this say about school reports? There are so many examples from the famous and the not so famous of school reports which inaccurately predict future success. Stephen Fry’s report from Uppingham said “He has glaring faults and they have certainly glared at us this term”. An enormously successful friend has also framed a school report which says “His ability to grasp French verbs is evident in this subject which unfortunately for him is Latin” and my own report from my reception class merely says “Jane writes good if untidy stories”.

I would like to think that school reports have improved since, in Sir John’s case, 1949. They now give praise and ways to improve which encourage pupils to progress. We are in danger though of an imbalance and whilst the one liners of the past which killed in the stroke of a pen any self-esteem are unacceptable there is a tendency for reports to give only good news. Virtually all of us, however good at our jobs, benefit from helpful criticism; most workplaces have some sort of appraisal which praises and recognises achievement but gives targets for future attainment. A good school report will do just that too. It will give encouragement and praise but at the same time suggest ways to progress or to stretch for further achievement. Grade cards and reports are a snapshot at this time. They are to be used to help progress and not used as any kind of measure of eventual outcome. Whichever year group your daughter is in there is time for it all to change; the important aspect of reports is that you take from them that which is useful to enhance progress. They are neither a stick nor a carrot but a reflection of attainment at this moment in time.

This poem by Edgar Guest is one of my favourites because if anyone told me it couldn’t be done I usually set out to show them it can.

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin on his face.
If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, as he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one we know has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.

But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done, and you’ll do it.