As I wrote my grades again, and for the first time this academic year, I realised that I had been completing similar short reports for nearly 30 years in a number of different schools (as well as receiving such assessments for all three of my children from Cargilfield and other schools). In that time,I have come to realise that while they are a very useful part of communication between teachers, children and parents, they do have their limitations.
From a starting point in September, those numbers and letters may move up and down and we can quickly see how a child is faring over time and relative to others. As a parent, however, these grades can seem relatively opaque, even when you apply the descriptors listed on the form. For that reason, the accompanying comments are important.
Try as any school might, this system of grades involves individual teachers, each applying them in different ways: sometimes cautious to start the year; sometimes more or less generous with the letters or numbers. I have been part of various school management teams that have tried to counter these issues in different ways but we rarely find effective alternatives.
My advice would be that parents look to get the best out of these assessments but don’t place too much emphasis on any one set of grades. Use them as a starting point for a conversation with your child about how they are finding their lessons and their learning. Pick the time for that conversation so that the responses are a little more fulsome and reflective rather than dismissive and negative. Use them as an opportunity to catch up with your child’s form teacher who will have reviewed these grades in the context of the other children in the class and may have had a conversation (or be planning to) with your child about them.
Remember that teachers tend not to spend a long time soul searching about the difference between a 2 and a 3 or a B and a C: that is not a productive use of time. Sometimes one aspect of your child’s learning will be emphasised in the use of a particular letter or number and the written comment will help you towards that. Grades can be used to encourage and boost confidence and sometimes to ask for more – a bit of carrot and stick, I suppose.
As a parent, you may recognise the discrepancy between a grade and a comment – that isn’t unusual – but use your own judgement to make sense of that. Where you aren’t sure, do ask a question of your child and/or your child’s form teacher as this is what the grades are intended to achieve…but do so sensitively. Do you really want a teacher spending hours over the minutiae of a specific grade rather than dealing with the children in the class? Do you want to discourage your child or a teacher from giving honest feedback (when non-specificpositive comments are so easily reverted to!)
As a teacher, I welcome the opportunity that grades offer to start a conversation with a child I am teaching and I hope that parents enjoy being party to that.
Welcome to Cargilfield! We hope this short film gives you a glimpse of what life is like for the girls and boys at our school. We would love to welcome you in person to tour Cargilfield and explain more fully exactly what makes a Cargilfield education so special and so different. Please get in touch with Fiona Craig, our Registrar if you would like to find out more; her email address is [email protected] or you can telephone her on 0131 336 2207.