It was a beautiful morning as I arrived at the university campus this morning. I had ridden from home through gently rolling countryside, the sun warming my back, the air clean and a gentle breeze to cool me on my way. Having deposited my bike in the cycle shed near my office I walked towards the building encountering three school students sitting on a bench in the sun. Many such students take a short cut across the campus on their way to a local secondary school, some stopping to kick a football around one of the playing fields, others simply putting off until the last moment their arrival at the school gate.
As I was passing the three lads, one of them, very politely wished me good morning and asked about my ride. I was happy to engage in some light hearted banter with them, but a few minutes conversation revealed that this was not a week that they had looked forward to with any great affection. Just a couple of weeks away from the end of term and with an approaching summer holiday I had anticipated that they might be cheerful enough. Sadly, this was not the case. What, you might ask, was the source of their despondency? Apparently during this week there will be two major and unwelcome events in their young lives. Firstly, the presentation of internal school examination results and secondly, the distribution of end of year reports to be taken home and discussed with parents.
“Cheer up”, I said, “the results might be a pleasant surprise. I’m sure you will all have done ok.” My young companions did not appear convinced. “Anyway, the school holidays will soon be here and you will be able to put examinations and reports behind you for a while.” This last comment likewise appeared to have little impact upon their gloomy demeanour.
Leaving these erstwhile scholars to ponder their impending fate I made my way to the shower and found myself reflecting on my own school days all those years ago.
It occurs to me that somewhere at the bottom of a drawer at my parents home, and hopefully long forgotten and never again to be discovered, may be a copy or two of my school reports. Although these could well now be classified as historical documents, I would certainly hope that they might be destroyed before they could be used as evidence against me! What I wonder, might a brief scan of these documents reveal? Can I recall how I felt about these annual missives which constituted an interrogation of my performance over the course of a school year? Like the young pupils who I encountered on campus this morning, I suspect that I watched my father open the sealed envelope containing my school report with something less than a happy countenance.
What would my school report have revealed to the reader? I’m sure I would have been quite happy with the comments from my English teachers, and likewise with those reflecting on my performance in history, geography, French and physical education. In the sciences I like to think that my enthusiasm would have been acknowledged, even if my marks did not always represent my attitude towards the subjects. Similarly, my art teacher would have given me a sympathetic hearing – absolutely no talent, but tries hard. But then we come to mathematics. Always my bête noire, in part because of what I suspect was my personal lack of regard for a series of teachers, who similarly did not appreciate the argumentative boy who they had to endure in their lessons. I’m sure when my maths teachers said ” could do better”, they really meant “we wish he would go away!”
Thinking back in this manner serves no real useful purpose. However, as I shuddered at my recollections of standing before my eager parents, as they tore with undisguised enthusiasm at the sealed brown envelope containing the judgement upon my performance, I can relate to the depression that has descended upon the boys with whom I conversed earlier.
Recording and reporting on the school year is undoubtedly an important ritual and one that parents and teachers have accepted as an annual event. I wonder to what extent the school report can be regarded in any way as a predictor of future performance? Is this in any way an exact science or is it simply a reading of the runes with which we try to disguise the inadequacy of the process? Simply out of curiosity I sought out the comments from the school reports of a number of successful individuals – they make for interesting reading.
“He will never amount to anything”. – Albert Einstein, scientist.
“Certainly on the road to failure… hopeless . . . rather a clown in class…wasting other pupils’ time.” – John Lennon, musician.
“Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world.” – Dame Judi Dench, actress.
So, though I doubt that it is of much consolation for those anxiously awaiting the fall of the executioner’s axe over the next couple of weeks, I would suggest that whilst the school report is a useful device for recording progress, it is a somewhat blunt instrument in terms of the overall scheme of things. It is certainly important to take heed of the comments made by the teachers writing on these documents; after all they are keen that you should do well. But perhaps for some receiving their reports over the next couple of weeks, the greatest pleasure may be in looking back in a few years’ time and recognising that they are not necessarily the greatest instruments of prediction.
Cheer up, the summer holiday will be upon us very soon.