The Paper War

It’s time for mid-year reports.  I am a dean at Year 9.  There are 200 students in my year level.  Every single student in my year level is receiving a nineteen page report.  This is 3800 pieces of paper for my year level.  Then there are the four other year levels in the school all of which are also receiving reports.  Year 9 and 10 are the largest year levels, and Year 9 students take the most subjects, but I think we can safely say that this report round will generate well over 10,000 sheets of paper.  In fact it will generate way over that number.  Last year when I was a Year 9 form teacher I had about 250 reports to proof read for my form class and I had to return about 150 of them for corrections and a reprint.  If we are reprinting 50% of these pages then the paper mountain is now at least 15,000 sheets high.  I suppose 3-4,000 of these sheets have gone straight in the bin because they needed correcting.

Once these 10,000 + pieces of paper have been posted what will happen to them?

Firstly, let’s look at what each Year 9 student is getting in their 19 page report.  Sheet one is a cover sheet with a comment from the student’s form teacher, their deans and the deputy principal responsible for their year level.  Next come individual sheets for each subject.  At Year 9 this is for all the core subjects (English, Maths, PE, Science, Social Studies), their language, and then for their two arts options and one technology option.  Every single one of these sheets has a box for marks and a space for a four to five line comment.  There is quite a lot of blank space on each report.  After this comes a student self-assessment for every subject where the students circle a series of boxes saying whether they rarely, sometimes, or always get to class on time, start work quickly, etcetera.  They do one for every single subject, not just an overall summary.

So, what happens to these 19 pages when they get home?  Well, if I were a parent I would flick through all the self assessments to see if there was anything of note and if there wasn’t I would chuck them in the bin.  I’m not sure if I would do it straight away or if I would hang on to them for awhile, but I would definitely bin them at some point.  The cover sheet?  This contains three levels of management writing a generalised summary…  bin it.  So, the actual reports.  I would read through them and I would hang on to them.  For awhile.  And after awhile I would probably… bin them.  Perhaps not the core subjects, but what do I really care how Jimmy or Jane went for 12 weeks in their Dance class when they were in third form?

Of course not everyone would do this, and I still have some of my reports from college, but then my reports from college actually fit on a single sheet of paper.  One sheet of paper.


One sheet of paper.

Sorry, I had to say that to myself a few times because I can’t believe it.  My mid-year report from fifth form comes on one page.  Fifth form mind you, a year that is supposed to be important.  There was a box at the top where each subject was given a space for an overall academic grade, an effort grade and a handwritten comment of about two sentences.  Because it’s funny, here it is, my report for Feb-June, 1988:

  • History (B) John-Paul has worked well and made good progress.  However this is by no means his optimum level of achievement.
  • Economics (B) A quiet student, John-Paul is still capable of better grades but he does have a good understanding.
  • Science (C+) Steady work over the first half of the year.  With a more determined effort John-Paul could achieve higher grades.
  • English (A) Excellent work has produced excellent results.  Keep it up!
  • Art (D) John-Paul has now begun to produce satisfactory work, but he needs quantity as well as quality.
  • Maths (C) John-Paul has worked steadily and quietly.  With thorough revision he should do well in S.C.
  • Form teacher comment: A quiet but willing member of the form.

This is not abbreviated in anyway.  This is the full report.  The thing is… this is all you really need.  I never received a report and thought it was too short. 

And then there is the elephant in the room.  I will whisper this so no one hears it:

School reports mean dick.

At the end of the day you have your NCEA results which get you into a university or a polytech, and then once you’ve managed to graduate something at a tertiary level even your NCEA results are meaningless.  No employer is going to ask how you went in fifth form or want to see your Drama report from third form.  I am not actually saying that we should get rid of reports.  Reports are necessary so that parents can keep in touch with how their kids are doing and giving them a bollocking if required, but there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the one page report I was receiving in 1988.  With NCEA we would have to add one more sheet to show all the results for seperate standards that the student passed or failed, but that’s about it.  If you think this is too little in the way of reporting remember that after all the reports have been posted there is a report night and the parents can go and talk to the teachers one on one.

For my school this would represent about 2,000 sheets of paper versus 10,000+ (what it would reprent nationally if all the schools were added up I don’t know, but I suspect it would make the collective members of the Green Party commit mass suicide).  I don’t actually particularly care for the environment, but I don’t think we should be almost wilfully destroying it with pointless waste.  Scrapping stupid reports would also represent a mind boggling amount of time given back to the teachers that they could use for planning lessons, marking, or even hanging out with their families in the weekend.

Hanging out with their families at the weekend.  Ha!

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I wrote a book called Kaitiaki o te Pō

3 thoughts on “The Paper War”

  1. Okay, you knew I was going to like this one, but…
    Shelley has a report like yours except that, in every tiny space next to each subject name, all the teachers have simply written,
    “Very Good.”
    The principal comments in a space at the bottom,
    “This is a very good report.”
    This is the sort of report commentary that I would like to see return, so that I could indeed have my weekends back!

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