What and how should the school tell me about my child's progress?
One of the best ways of evaluating a school is to look at the ways in which it reports to parents. There are some best-practice' benchmarks to look out for when investigating a school's reporting system. Reports or some other communication should explain at the beginning of the year, or the semester, what ground will be covered in each subject, and outline the type and standard of work expected, including homework.
Schools should send a full written report at least twice a year. Reports on academic progress should cover all subjects and should show how far the child has progressed since the last report and against expectations (or standards) for children in that age group. Teacher comments should be clear, honest and constructive. Reports should also record other activities undertaken and contain comments on behaviour and the child's social and personal development.
There should be an opportunity to meet with each of your child's teachers at least twice a year. You should get around 10 minutes with each teacher. Meetings are generally made by appointment and should be private. If it is the school's practice to include the child in these discussions, the school should make it easy for you to talk one-on-one with teachers whenever else you feel it is necessary.
You should also see a portfolio of your child's work in some, if not all, subjects at least once a year. Additionally, you should be given an opportunity to compare work in the portfolio with samples of work that exemplify the required standard. The school should also have an early warning' system to report problems or difficulties (potential or actual) to parents. Telephone contact with individual teachers should not be frequent but should be accepted as a perfectly normal occurrence. All of this communication should be constructive from your child's point of view and cooperative from yours.
It is also important to know that the school checks up on student attendance at school and at lessons. Absenteeism is often linked with falling grades and motivation, and is an early sign that something is amiss. Schools have an obligation to know that students are at school and in class, and to let parents know if they are not. The systems for checking attendance need to be clear to everyone and be used consistently.
Most schools will meet all of these reporting standards. Whether a school meets, exceeds, or falls short in its communications is generally a good way of measuring how hard and how well it will work for you and your child.