Every so often in schools - as elsewhere - difficult, unpopular decisions have to be made.
I have found that it helps to try and head off the problems that staff, pupils or parents will raise by construction a FAQ document. First off, the act of constructing such a thing really focuses the mind. Secondly, if you get it right, it can be disseminated publicly and so diffuse much of the angst that unpopular decisions precipitate.
I also find that by phrasing at least some of your questions in the manner of your most obstreperous constituent you can really take the wind out of their sails. Clearly you have to be careful here, but a bit of humour (flippancy even?) can be an extremely effective tool in diffusing tension.
Here's an FAQ document I created recently explaining the rationale for my much-reviled 'valedictory reports'. See what you think...
When do we do valedictory reports?
We compose valedictory reports just before Trinity half term. They go out for pupils in the upper sixth and the fifth form only (those year groups who will have finished their taught courses before the end of term).
When do they go out?
Valedictory reports generally go out sometime in the fortnight following Trinity half term. As with other reports, the Headmaster writes his piece and he is busy! You should therefore write your report making the assumption that by the time it lands in parental inboxes the exams will be all over.
Why do we bother?
I feel that to let examined year groups leave without some tangible written record of what, for some, is their last term at Oswestry would be a great shame. The alternative, to let pupils go without so much as by-your-leave is unpalatable.
What is the suggested content for valedictory reports?
Valedictory reports don’t need to be lengthy. Nor is there much point in providing detailed academic advice (it is too late for that). They should comment on the pupil’s progress over the course of the year(s). Also, they should contain, if possible, a warm personal anecdote and wish them well for the future.
In cases where expectations need to be managed they should make a point of doing so. However, they should not contain damning comments that come out of the blue. If such comments are necessary they should have been preceded by a long sequence of similar warnings in earlier reports and reviews.Parents also welcome comment on how preparations, revision etc. went in the lead up to the exam(s).
What about the grades - don’t we run the risk of holding ourselves hostages to fortune?
Yes we do. The grades are asked for are for internal consumption only. When these reports go out to parents they will display no academic metrics at the top.
I’m busy, and these are a total waste of my time. What are you going to do about it?
I’m sorry you feel like that. I don’t agree and so in one sense a flippant ‘nothing’ is the most honest answer. However, remember that in getting these out of the way now you’ll have less to do at the end of term (when you’ll also be busy).
Also, try to put yourself in the shoes of a pupil who has been at the school since reception. Imagine the ignominy of leaving with no permanent record of your last term in the school. I hope you’ll agree that a little bit of ‘pain’ now is worth it as a small repayment for the loyalty shown by such pupils and their parents.