End of Term School Reports

Many of us, like me, used to await our school report with mixed feelings. However it is my experience that little consideration is handed out to those who write the reports. Different schools have different traditions about report writing and the advent of parents’ evenings, when parents meet their child’s teachers, has, to some extent, added to, but not devalued, reports.

At Sherborne, an all boys boarding school of 650 13 to 18 year olds, where I was Headmaster for 12 years, the tradition was that each boy would receive a termly written report from all those who taught them and these would then be passed on to the 9 Housemasters who would fill gaps and comment on the boy’s extra-curricular activities. In order to discourage mundane comments like “he could do better” and “reasonable progress has been made”, I used to run a competition that reflected the humour and possibilities of report writing. I posted about 10 anonymous extracts on the Common Room notice board and the first colleague to guess the correct author of each of these snippets received a bottle of wine.

The nature of the humour meant that glowing reports seldom attracted the unusual and so the majority of these comments inevitably came from the more critical reports. Anyway, during those miserable June days, I came across one of these competitions which I thought I would share with you. In many ways they reflect the joy of teaching and the banter and humour that emerges from successfully engaging a class of emerging adolescents. The competition also provided a lot of fun - so here goes.

“Unfortunately he thinks that a passing interest in French is the same as an interest in passing French.”

“I have enjoyed his company even on the few times when he has become a bit of an old wind bag and has had to shut up”.

“He is the past master of argument by gesture: his contribution is often made via the eyebrow or upturned lip. This may provide much field research material for Desmond Morris but it isn’t exactly the stuff of class- room debate.”

“Sometimes he seems to think there is a short cut - intravenous German? German by pill or potion?”

“For example, he would (he did) express the perception that Hotspur in Henry IV values honour, action, displays of physical bravery above diplomacy, guile and strategic subtlety by saying: ‘Basically, he’s a complete moron’. It’s a vigorous and decisive view, but it does not indicate much respect for the habits of intellectual precision that are to be encouraged.”

“I bet he is quite a guy on the games field but he is the most terrible wimp in the classroom. I have rarely met a boy with a lower academic pain thresh- old.”

“There’s a dull stodginess about some of his essays that makes one think of Boswell on a particularly bad day.”

“If silence is golden, he must be 24 carat.”

“Hockey has been his chief extra-curricular delight this term.......Well, no. Of course not. But a Housemaster can dream....In fact, I can’t at the moment of writing recollect his appearing in the Junior Leagues team at all; but that may be quite unfair - it’s just that his talent for concealing himself on an open field so as to escape the possibility of anyone passing him the ball should be made available to the manufacturers of the Stealth Bomber.”

“I much enjoyed his version of the Bach D minor Toccata, BWV 565, in the House Concert: it was performed with real panache, though any passing spiritualist might have sensed Bach peering over his shoulder at the music with a slightly startled expression in one or two places.”

I hope that the above reflects the challenge and sheer joy of teaching.

Peter Lapping