No matter how in touch you are with what’s going on at school, school reports will give you the most detailed and accurate ‘snapshot’ of how your child is doing. However, sometimes, understanding school reports can be pretty tricky. 

Reports are the primary schools most formal way of letting you know how your child’s education is progressing. These will almost always be followed up with teacher interviews in which you are given an opportunity to ask questions in order to fully understand what has been stated in a report.

A school report your child receives nowadays is likely to look vastly different from those you yourself received when you went to school, with one small exception. It’s likely some of the same comments may appear on the two!

Language used in school reports

A report written in education jargon and full of technical terms you’re not familiar with would be no good to you. There will be terms you may not be familiar with but on the whole, the reason comments may resemble those written in reports in your day, is because they are written for parents and need to be understood by them.

Parents need to be able to understand and support their children and the school.

What do school reports have to cover?

School reports, as set out by the NAGs (National Administration Guidelines) must report the progress of individual students and are required to report to parents any difficulties affecting a child’s learning.

Reports will cover student progress in the seven core subjects (click here to learn more) and the essential skills that support these core subjects.

The seven core curriculum subjects are

  1. English Language
  2. Mathematics
  3. Science
  4. Technology
  5. Social Sciences
  6. Art
  7. Health and Physical Education

The eight essential skills are

  1. Communication Skills
  2. Numeracy Skills
  3. Information Skills
  4. Problem-solving Skills
  5. Self Management and Competitive Skills
  6. Social and Co-operative Skills
  7. Physical Skills
  8. Work and Study Skills

The essential skills support these core subjects. Students should develop these skills through their work in specific learning areas and through all aspects of school life. For example, problem-solving skills are a focus for the maths learning area but are also practised and demonstrated more informally as children play and work together in the classroom or playground.

Schools should report on your child’s development of these skills.

understanding school reports

So what exactly should my child’s school report tell me?

Your child’s school report should clearly tell you what your child has learned in that period of reporting. The report should comment separately on progress and achievement and will more than likely give you an indication of your child’s effort in each area. It should also give you an indication on how their learning has developed since the last report you received.

Reporting on your child’s achievement should give you an accurate idea of what they have actually learned. You should know, by the end of reading it, how well they have mastered the objectives for each subject.

Teacher comments should help you to understand this more thoroughly as well as telling you what the next steps are for your child – what the next learning objective is for subject each.

How does the teacher measure achievement and progress?

There are many different ways a classroom teacher measures how your child is achieving and progressing in different subjects.

As well as the standard assessments that happen at different stages (for more on this at Primary level click here), teachers collect evidence by

  • collecting portfolios of children’s work
  • keeping running records of progress (used to assess reading development)
  • anecdotal observations (descriptions of what students do)
  • checklists
  • test scores
  • marking of class or home work
  • conferencing (discussing an individual piece of work with a student) student self-assessment.

Teacher interviews and a portfolio of your child’s work should be offered with any written report you receive. This gives you a chance to understand all that has been written and to ask any questions.

There is normally a space reserved in reports for any other school-based activities your child takes part in. This is a place where teachers can keep a record of and special duties a student may have at school or sports or cultural groups they may be a part of.

How often should I expect school reports?

Different schools have different reporting periods and policies. The stock standard is for two reports to be sent home within the school year, one in the middle of the year and one at the end.

Talking about school reports with your child

Talk to your child about their school report. Get them to have a read of any comments the teacher may have made and ask what they think about it.

If it’s great let them know you are proud of them, are they proud of themselves? Tell them it’s great that they are making an effort. Note any positive changes that have been noticed by the teacher since the last report. Is there anyone they may like to send a photocopy of the report to show them how well they are doing? Grandparents love this!

If the report is not so great ask them why they think that may be. Ask if they think there is any way they can change the behaviour or improve the practice. Talk gently to them about what the teacher has noticed.

More about understanding school reports

If you want to find out more about your child’s school report, the first thing you should do is contact their teacher or principal. Your child’s school should be able to explain each part of the report to you.

You can also find out more about what reporting the government requires by looking on the Ministry of Education website.

Reports should be designed to help you understand what you child can do and what they need to be working on. If you do not feel like you are getting this information, don’t be afraid to contact your child’s teacher and ask for more information.


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Kylie Valentine is a qualified secondary school teacher, trained journalist, and the mum of two fabulous children.

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