Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Own Goal?

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

An Own Goal?

Article excerpt

A while back, one of my pupils came into the lesson and, with the careless air of a monarch waving from a carriage, dropped on to my desk a piece of paper, folded like a crisp packet in a pub. Expediency demanded I ignore it, but I wasn't surprised when, at the end of the lesson, he limp-walked to my desk as everyone filed out.

"Have you signed my report card, Sir?" he asked. Of course.

"Not yet," said I. "And thanks for letting me know you were on report. What was your first target?"

Quick as a shadow, he replied: "Top banter, Sir." Which was both funny and top banter, so he won on both counts.

Report cards are funny beasts. Slightly like homeopathy, they only work if the pupil believes in them. If they care even slightly about their standing as a student, their relationship with the school or the consequences of failing the report, then report cards can have a Jedi-like power. But if they don't, you'd be as well putting a JCB on report. As the British found when Gandhi couponed them back to Europe, if people refuse to do what you say, power is meaningless unless you're actually prepared to clobber them. Which is unlikely in a classroom that isn't Waterloo Road.

You occasionally find a report card with targets so odd you wonder if the pastoral staff were high when they devised them: mini-Asbos such as "Daniel must not stare out of the window", which is tough given that the more you tell someone not to do something like that, the more they are drawn to it. I rarely have the heart to bury a bullet in a student because they noticed a cloud. …

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