I don't understand my children's school reports


I did quite well in high school English, in fact I got an A -- back when teachers were brave enough to give out letters that indicate skill level instead of bland platitudes. But, for the life of me, I cannot understand what my kid’s teachers are saying about him.

And I am not alone, when I talk to parents the most common complaint about school reports is that they have become meaningless; afraid to say anything, schools end up saying nothing. Reports become a random selection of safe words and a scale that appears to start at Good and end at Really Good.

Like many parents, when I saw stories last week that some schools were jumping ahead of government changes forcing schools to return to plain English I was encouraged. But then the half-term report turned up in my son’s school bag -- it was the same impenetrable management speak.

Some examples:


“His concrete understanding of number and place value allows him to effectively implement a range of strategies to solve addition and subtraction problems”

When I take away the bullshit from this, I guess he can add and subtract.

Apparently he has an “ability to model inclusion to his peers”

So he’s inclusive? Or a psychopath who is able to “model” inclusion but really not give a rat’s?

“He is learning to stay focused and engaged on his tasks so he can fulfill his potential and complete them within the set time frame.”

Leaving aside the bad grammar, we actually found out he was being kept behind at recess because his hand-writing was so slow. From him.


“He listens intently and is often able to recap previous issues discussed.”

Often? Because when you whittle away the hyperbole that is just the basics of rote learning.


I could go on, but I would lose you if I haven’t already. I know I've tuned out, just like I did when an old-school teacher droned on straight from a textbook instead of teaching from the heart.

This ridiculous language has had the desired effect, I no longer really care to read it, so I rarely judge the people involved. I don’t look forward to finding out how my child is going at school because I know it is going to be a fruitless exercise in decoding like when you put any language into Google translate.

My son’s teachers could write that my kid is “showing a slightly heightened propensity to take an active role in removing the outer layer of stray felines” and I would miss it, such is the onslaught on nonsense language I am being fed.

I am a journalist, English is my business, and if I wrote like school reports I would be sacked.

I worry too that these people are teaching him to write; to express himself, yet they are afraid, or not allowed, to do the same themselves.

It doesn’t get a lot better face-to-face either. A recent parent-teacher chat gave the distinct feeling of those times as a writer I have had to interview a reluctant celebrity or more like business person or pollie that has a script to stick to. No deviation, no elaboration. Stick. To. The. Script.

I understand that teachers do not want to expose themselves to libel or the anger of parents who don’t like to hear that little Meekaylar is about two years behind in her spelling and comprehension but what about the rest of us? What about parents who want to get a clear understanding of where they need to support their children. I am not afraid of hearing my child is doing poorly, I’m afraid of NOT hearing it, of it being lost in the impenetrable gibberish of half-term assessment that at times make James Joyce seem a study in clarity.

I don’t suggest we hark back to the days of canings and labeling of students as clearly delinquent, but I do welcome the “plain English” changes that are supposed to be headed by way. I don’t even mind a “compliment sandwich” but not when the filling is equally saccharine like the written equivalent of peanut butter and honey (real peanut butter and honey sandwiches are great, don’t get me wrong!)

I wonder how long it will take to implement these changes? This fear of expression seems entrenched. But I hope it is a swift and meaningful change because we are in danger of losing sight of our kids' performance as it is swamped by fearful faux legalese. All the schools that have started ahead of next year’s deadline, well done. The rest of you, that continue to hide behind nonsensical language in school reports, you’re at the bottom of the class.