This paper investigates the use of report writing software introduced specifically to help teachers of Key Stage 1 (KS1 – 5 to7 years old pupils) to write computerised end of year school reports to parents. The paper will analyse the ways in which teachers adapt to using such software, and their opinions as to whether the software enables them to accurately describe each child’s achievements. The paper will also analyse the government’s and school inspectors’ attitudes to end of year report writing to parents and the parents’ reactions to such computerised reports.
There are a large number of report writing packages, most of which appear to have been developed in the last five to seven years. However the idea of statement banks is older and longer in existence. With the developments of in-house school systems some schools developed their own statement banks (Noonan 2007), but many have accepted government recommended free software (Mackay 2009).
It is a statutory requirement of UK schools to provide parents at least once a year with a written report covering each pupil’s achievements related to the national curriculum. These reports have to contain
- progress in all the national curriculum subjects they have studied;
- progress in other subjects and activities;
- general progress and attendance; and
- results in any national curriculum tests or assessments.
The report should also tell parents when they can discuss it with the school. This discussion usually takes place at a parents’ evening….. (UK Government Legal Advice Site 2008)
In relation to the above legal requirements, most computerised report writing packages used for KS1 reports assume that parents need to be informed about each individual subject (as taught in higher levels of schooling) :
- Design and technology
- Information and Communication Technology (ICT)
- Art and Design
- Physical education
Thus the report blueprints are arranged in paragraphs headed by each of the above subjects. However for 5-7 year old children the emphasis is on developing literacy and maths skills (Directgov 2005), the delivery of which is tightly controlled and streamlined. The way in which the other subjects, called Foundation Subjects, are delivered is left to individual schools as long as the curriculum is followed (BBC 2009).
Based on interviews with primary school teachers, school inspectors and Local Educational Authorities (LEA) advisors, parents and the technology developers the paper follows the way in which these users shaped, developed and used the software to write the most appropriate individual report for each KS1 child. The theories of Social Shaping of Technology (MacKenzie and Wajcman 1999) will be used to analyse this development. The seemingly technologically deterministic approach to this software adoption by some school heads and teachers and by government agencies is not supported by the experience of the teachers and the feedback from parents. The initial adoption was apparently aiming at shortening the time teachers take writing the reports and standardising them so that they become comparable in the way they report on individual children’s academic attainments. In the words of CS, a primary school teacher from an East London primary school:
”I felt confident about writing the reports [by hand] and had a system for doing lots of them. … but I got overtaken by the technology…”
It became clear during an interview with an East London LEA Foundation Years Advisor (pre KS1) and from the Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency (QCDA 2008) website, that there is a need for communication between KS1 teachers and foundation teachers about the levels of attainment with which children enter into their first year of primary school. Both Advisors and the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DSCF) stress the importance of an educational dialogue between KS1 and foundation teachers to best utilise early years learning and of parental involvement in their children schooling. The emphasis of Early Years Education is on the following areas of personal development, on which the KS1 teachers build their teaching:
- Personal, social and emotional development
- Communication, language and literacy
- Problem solving, numeracy and reasoning
- Knowledge and understanding of the world
- Physical development
- Creative development
However, the report writing software statement banks available to KS1 teachers do not allow for comments on such a personal development of KS1 children. Many parents would prefer the broad extent of foundation reports to be maintained in the KS1 end of year reports. CS characterised it as follows:
Initially I took a very long time looking for phrases and matching them to children…. At the beginning the statements one after the other did not read well, the language was too bland and did not tell enough individually to parents about their children…”
The paper will attempt to establish whether this specialised software will in the future be developed and shaped according to the parents’ and KS1 teachers’ feedback and whether a sufficient autonomy will be given to KS1 teachers to personalise the software and increase the database of appropriate statements. The alternative will be a “fit for all” package.
BBC, (2009), How is the Primary Curriculum taught in different schools?, http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/parents/work/curriculum_guide/primary_curriculum_differences.shtml – – accessed 10/8/09
Directgov, (2005), Parents – The National Curriculum for five to 11 year olds, http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/Parents/Schoolslearninganddevelopment/ExamsTestsAndTheCurriculum/DG_4015959 – accessed 10/8/09
Drew Mackay, (2009), Evaluation Report Assist, http://www.schoolzone.co.uk/evaluations/evaluation.asp?evalID=5050 – accessed 12/8/09
MacKenzie, D. and Wajcman, J., (1999) The Social Shaping of Technology, Open University Press Buckingham, Philadelphia
Noonan, S., (2007), Progress Report, http://www.teachernet.gov.uk/teachers/issue48/secondary/features/Progressreport/ – accessed 12/8/09
Qualifications and Curriculum Development Agency, (2008), Early Years Foundation Stage, http://www.qcda.gov.uk/13585.aspx – accessed 13/8/09
UK Government Legal Advice Site, (2008), What should I be told about my child and their progress? http://www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk/en/legalhelp/leaflet20_6.jsp – accessed 12/8/09