School reports decoded: What your child’s teacher really means

There is a lot to be learnt from the phrases used to describe your child’s class work. Caroline Delaney asks some teachers to translate

HERE it is — the summary of your child’s educational achievements over the past year. Reading skills, maths ability, gaeilge prowess — it’s all here in the much-anticipated End of Year Report.

But this little document may contain much more than notes on your child’s class work. For teachers it can be a chance to unburden themselves about your wound-up little monkey or an opportunity to reveal how much effort they put into coaxing a nod or a grunt out of that surly, sulky pre-teen you shunted out the door and into their classroom each morning.

It’s not recorded what Albert Einstein’s former teachers thought of him once he picked up that Nobel prize. What was put on record though was his school report: “He will never amount to anything,” predicted a Munich schoolteacher in 1895.

And another teacher who failed to spot their student’s potential was the one who noted that Charlotte Bronte wrote “indifferently” and “knew nothing of grammar”.

But teachers today are not going to incriminate themselves as dolts who lacked the ability to spot real potential if your classroom doodler turns out to be a famous animator or if their hours spent weaving and selling loombands translates into a bright business career. Oh no, they’re going to put their criticisms in code.

Here we can offer you a guide to cracking that code.

Sure, you can figure out the easy ones — ‘bright’ does indeed mean clever but things do get a little trickier than that.

We enlisted the help of a few — anonymous — teachers.

Active — fidgets incessantly and doesn’t know how to sit still.

Alert — watches and waits for teacher to make a single slip of the tongue.

Animated — disruptive.

Colourful — lies about everything all the time.

Creative — doodles.

Eager to help — would rather waste time collecting post or tidying up educational toys than learn a single thing.

Energetic — we suspect you may be giving them Red Bull for breakfast.

Enjoys the social side of school — talks too much.

Expressive — whinges.

Has potential — just doesn’t try.

Lively — could be good if just stopped bouncing off the walls.

Needs to do neater work at school — quit doing your child’s homework.

Needs to watch the accuracy in their homework — quit doing your child’s homework as you’re an idiot.

Quiet — brooding, scares me a little.

Relaxed attitude — lazy.

Very willing to engage in discussion — argues about every single point raised every single day.

And those notes on attendance and punctuality and neatness? Every teacher knows that it’s the parents who drag weary children from their beds on those winter mornings and it’s the parents who have the uniforms ironed and ready — so when they give anything less than an ‘excellent’ here then it’s you they’re grading.

Famous last words for young celebs

School reports decoded: What your child’s teacher really means

Teachers have had mixed success in their assessments of children who grew into famous adults. The final school report for Stephen Hawking predicted that “He will go far”. Aged eight, Countdown presenter, Carol Vorderman, impressed her teachers: “Carol has a masterly hold over mathematical computation which should prove profitable later on.”

But a teacher at Liverpool’s Quarry Bank School predicted that John Lennon was “certainly on the road to failure ... hopeless ... rather a clown in class ... wasting other pupils’ time.”

One of Gary Lineker’s teachers noted that he was “too interested in sport. You can’t make a living out of football.” Likewise actress Judi Dench: “Judi would be a very good pupil if she lived in this world.”

Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman’s parents were warned: “Stubbornness is in his nature, and could be an asset when directed to sound ends. But his flying off the handle will only mar his efforts, and he must learn tact while not losing his outspokenness.”

Sarah Ferguson seemed fun at boarding school: “She must learn that liveliness should cease at ‘lights out’.” And wouldn’t you just love to know what Joanna Lumley said to merit this report? “She must learn to speak politely when her requests are refused.”


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