As school years come to a close a lot of report reading is going to be happening in a lot of households. For those who find reading these reports tedious, please spare a thought for those who write them because, believe me, making these things interesting is not easy. I’ve written more reports than I can be bothered to count and, although I’d like to think they have all been literate and accurate and none, to my knowledge, has called any pupil by the wrong name (and how easy that is, all you cut-and-pasters), I don’t think any has been particularly interesting or entertaining.Only once have I flirted with humour when describing an underperforming student, and that was when I realised that, rather than resist and rise above the cliché (the instinct of any self-respecting English teacher), the thing to do was take the cliché, embrace it, and push it as far as you can.So I took the favourite cliché for a kid who’s stopped working hard –‘he’s taken his foot off the pedal’ – and I ended up with ‘He has not so much taken his foot off the pedal as got out of the car and abandoned the vehicle….’
Then I took another one – a sporting cliché, the one that says ‘he’s taken his eye off the ball’ and I got: ‘This term he has not only taken his eye off the ball – he has been hit by it squarely in the forehead, destroying his brain’s capacity to function normally’
Then I had all kinds of ideas:
‘He has not so much gone off the boil as fallen off the cooker’
‘He has not only lost interest – he has lost his entire life savings’
‘He has not only lost focus, he has gone completely blind, and when it comes to this subject he now needs both a white stick and a guide dog.’
‘Not content with coming off the rails, he has also slithered down the embankment’
‘His interest in the subject is so weak , so close to being extinct, that if it were a pet it would be put down. If it were a human I would send it to Zurich for assisted suicide.’
(A prize to the first one to guess which one of those was actually sent home)
I’ve thought a lot about reports and I have a big idea, an idea Mr Gove and all Headteachers might consider as a foolproof way of letting pupils and parents know where they stand and making the whole report –writing process a lot easier for teachers. My idea is that you should only ever have to use three words.
The words are good, bloody, and no.
This would give you ‘good’, ‘no good’, ‘bloody good’, and ‘no bloody good’. It would also give you ‘no’ and ‘bloody’ which, capitalised and with the addition of an exclamation mark (NO! and BLOODY!) might also communicate a clearly understood message.