The BEST Report Writing Software is...

Hi everyone,

It’s report writing season again! This is easily the most-hated time of the academic year and I can almost guarantee that this post will be too late for some of you. There may even be a few of you out there who have managed that holy grail of report writing - squirrelling away little tidbits throughout the year! All you guys have to do is cut, paste and be smug!


The bad news is that end of year reports are a legal, and therefore statutory, requirement. There is some good news though… sort of. Depending on how awkward you want to be. You see, the legislature is very clear that one annual report must be sent home at the end of the Summer term[1]. So if you work in the sort of school that asks for a separate report - however small - for each parents’ evening as well at the end of the year, you are within your rights to refuse.

Don’t get me wrong, this can get uncomfortable when you bring it up (I know from personal experience) but there is very little the head teacher can do about it because of the second useful piece of the legislature. It only ever mentions the report being written by the head teacher. You can combine that with the advice from the teaching union NASUWT, who state that:

“Teachers should only produce one report per year for all of the pupils they teach which requires them to make comments about pupils’ progress and performance either in writing or using an electronic comment bank.[2]

And then bring it home with the fact that there is only one official mention of the classroom teacher in the official regulation:

"“teacher assessment” means assessment of a pupil’s NC level of attainment in a subject by the pupil’s teacher.[3]"

Call me crazy, but that’s just the assessment records you’ve been keeping all year anyway. So, if you wanted to be *really* pedantic, you can argue that you don’t have to write a report at all.

But there is a caveat. Not only does your contract probably contain a clause about ‘any other duties deemed appropriate’, under which, report writing would definitely fall, you could also be accused of breaching section 8 of the Teaching Standards, which covers ‘wider professional responsibilities.’ So, while any mid-year reports are fairly easily avoided, there’s no fool-proof way to get out of those Summer reports.

All is not lost though, there are a lot of ways to reduce the workload. I’ve had a look at a few and I’m going to review them for you here now!

The first is Twinkl’s new Report Writer (www.twinkl.com)



This is an update of a spreadsheet version that didn’t work with Google Sheets, so pretty handy! It’s included if you have a subscription to Twinkl (at any level, or so they tell me), which costs from £53.88 annually. However, for that you do get a pretty comprehensive tool. There’s also the option to pay monthly (£5.49), which might be worth it for the report writer.

There is a range of curricula to choose from (England’s NC, Australia’s, South Africa’s, Common Core…), each generating its own unique comment bank, and you start by selecting one of these. You can enter the child’s name and select their pronouns (he/him, she/her; there are no neutral options).

Following this, you select your subject and then run it through a drop-down filter list. The Science one, for example, lists the separate curriculum elements and then offers you options for year-group-specific comments. The only downside to this is if your school has altered the curriculum (so that you teach certain Year 4 elements in Year 5, that sort of thing). But, honestly, it’s not rocket science.

For areas of the curriculum that don’t have individual elements, you’re offered High, Medium and Low ability options.

Once you’ve selected your comments, which is done by clicking the plus icon in the comment bank, your report is built underneath. You can move comments up or down and insert a new line if you want to. Clicking on a little meeple icon gives you an extended selection of pronouns so that the report doesn’t get too robotic.

You then copy to the clipboard and paste into whatever report format you are using.

Example of outcome:

Milo is learning how to take measurements using scientific equipment.
He is beginning to record his findings using some scientific diagrams, tables and graphs.
Milo confidently records complex data and results in a variety of ways.
Milo has made steady progress in reading this year.
He has really tried hard with his reading, and seems to be much more confident.
He is becoming a competent reader and is starting to enjoy more demanding books.
Milo listens attentivelyand can talk clearly and concisely about his work.
Milo handwriting is invariably neat, though it can become untidy during creative writing.
Milo's handwriting is much neater and more legible.
Milo's handwriting is generallywell-formed and more accurately joined.


The Pros:

  • Straightforward
  • Lots of variety in comments and subjects
  • Ability to alter pronouns

The Cons:

  • It isn’t free
  • The comments don’t flow well together, so there is still some work to be done
  • The formatting of some comments is a little off (missing spaces between words)

Overall:

It’s not a bad piece of software and the fact that you can change the child’s name and gender without starting from scratch means that you could easily bulk-write some reports. However, for me, the lack of cohesion between comments means that I would have to go and edit each report independently anyway, so I’m not really sure how much time this would save overall.

3/5


Next up...


Again from Twinkl, a dynamic comment bank. This one is only available to people who have subscribed to the ‘Extra’ tier or above, so it’s a little more expensive… even though it does less. Thankfully, this one does work with Google Sheets so I was able to give it a go.



It’s exactly what you would expect. You enter the child’s name and gender (still only ‘male’ and ‘female’, no ‘they’ option. If you try to enter it manually, you are hit with a message telling you that it isn’t possible.


It’s understandable, I’ve made these types of dynamic sheets before and it’s an extra line of code nested in an IF statement (which, to be fair to Twinkl, would now have to be rewritten as an IFS statement because the outcomes are no longer binary). It wouldn’t be difficult to fix but it would take time and I guess Twinkl figures that gender fluidity shouldn’t come into the classroom? I’ve asked Twinkl for a comment, if they reply before I get this published, I’ll include it here.

There are 17 different subjects to choose from but, unlike the report writer, this comment bank is exclusively for the Primary English curriculum. This particular spreadsheet does not collect and collate the comments you have selected, so it’s a case of CTRL+C, switch documents, CTRL+V, which can be incredibly time consuming. As with the report writer, the comments are all pretty stand-alone, so cohesion will be down to your editing skills.

Example of outcome:

N/A

The Pros:

  • Lots of options for each subject area
  • Dynamically updates names and pronouns.

The Cons:

  • It’s part of the more expensive tier
  • There is still a lot of editing work to do
  • Only Primary English curriculum options


Overall:

The best thing about this is the wealth of comments. I copied the spreadsheet and added some code so that I could have more choice of gender. I also added a drop-down option for each element and had the sheet collate the comments I had selected so that I could copy and paste whole paragraphs at once (I went a little further and created a separate sheet that collated each paragraph I had made and put the whole report together for me… then I remembered that each subject is reported on separately anyway. D’oh!)

Honestly, I’m a little surprised Twinkl didn’t do this themselves as it’s not at all difficult… well, maybe it is on Excel; I wouldn’t know. In Google Sheets, it’s a doddle!

2/5


Breaking away from Twinkl now...


We have School Report Writer (www.schoolreportwriter.com). This is a free, online tool with not only a lot of subject options but also a lot of editing options within those subjects.

You start by entering a name and selecting a gender (female, male or neutral). Next, you select an opening sentence and click on the comment you like to add it to your report. And yes, you read that right. School Report Writer has the option to be gender non-specific! Not only that, the programme automatically adjusts the grammar and syntax so that everything still makes sense without your having to edit it. How’s that for inclusive!

Here’s the clever bit, the next comment bank will automatically load in for you. You can build comment banks to create a template report that is generated in just a few clicks. You can even add in paragraph breaks by clicking on the Line Break icon beside the comment you want to add.

Once the report has been generated, the editing process is as simple as clicking on coloured words. Some will simply switch to an alternative word, while others offer a drop-down menu from which you can select the most appropriate word or phrase. This is great because it solves the cohesion issue with Twinkl’s offerings.


When you’re finished building the report, one click of a button shows you the final report as a paragraph; the student’s name and gender; the word count and the character count. Then it’s a case of copying and pasting.


It seems too good to be true, right? Well, there is one tiny niggle. You have to find and import the comment banks. That’s not actually as bad as it sounds though as there are loads of options out there and you don’t even have to leave the site. You just head over to the Import/Export/Share tab and there is a search bar right there. I tried it with Primary English and Maths and was very pleasantly surprised (the report example below took three minutes from searching for the comment bank to copy and pasting the final report).

There is a tab that says ‘Free Report Comments’, but don’t be fooled! I spoke to the fella who created the website a decade ago and he assured me that the wording is purely for search engine optimisation. Everything on the site is free-to-use. When you create a (free) account, it allows the site to keep your report private from the search engine elements. So that’s nice.

Example of outcome:


Rosie has studied counting, partitioning and calculating, securing number facts, understanding shape, handling data and measures, and number relationships. She has been able to find possible solutions to a problem and confirmed them in the context of the problem She could choose and use operations and calculation strategies appropriate to the numbers and context.

She can count from any given number in whole-number and decimal steps, extending beyond zero when counting backwards. She can solve simple problems involving direct proportion by scaling quantities up or down.

She can use her knowledge of multiplication to derive quickly corresponding division facts. She can use her understanding of place value to multiply and divide whole numbers and decimals by 10, 100 or 1000.

The Pros:

  • You can generate entire paragraphs
  • The editing process is completed with a few clicks
  • It’s free

The Cons:

  • You have to search for and import the comment banks
  • I encountered one spelling mistake and a missing hyphen.

Overall:

I’m impressed with this web tool. It’s versatile and, once you get the hang of it, pretty user-friendly. While it could be a hassle to search out the comment banks, at least they are there for free (however, I thought I had imported Key Stage 2 maths but it turned out that I had only found Upper Key Stage 2, so it’s not as simple as it could be). There is even the option to edit the metadata and add your own class as a drop-down list! As for that spelling mistake and missing hyphen, Linden (the guy who made it) has been so quick to respond to my emails, and so friendly, that I’m sure he’d be happy to address the issue if you told him exactly where it was (there’s a lot to go through). Also, part of it being free is that comment banks can be imported from anywhere on the web, so it might not necessarily be Linden’s fault in the first place! Anyway, these things are easily spotted with a quick spelling and grammar check.

4/5


The next report writing tool I looked at...

The Report Comments Bank (www.reportcommentbank.co.uk). This is another very generic-looking tool but this one has the added spice of needing to create a free account. That’s okay, I don’t mind creating a free account; one tenminutemail address later and I was in. There is also the option to log in through TES.com, which is different.

Once in, you are greeted with a constant splash telling you that you are using the free version, which I thought meant I was limited to one report only but then I was able to go back and create more. So, I’m a little confused.


It also seems to be focussed on the Secondary curriculum (there is a Welsh subject option though), so not great for Primary teachers. Other than that, it works in much the same way as all the others. You type in your pupil’s name and assign them a binary gender then you select your area and click away.

When you go to save your report, something rather novel occurs. You are given the option to assign it a tag. These include ‘Generic’, ‘Very Good’, even ‘Lazy’ and ‘Troublesome’. These are then saved in the Quick Reports section, just a click away and filed under the tag you’ve assigned.

I have to say, this makes it pretty easy to write up a bunch of similar reports for different children. And by similar, I mean identical. There is no automatic option to adjust adjectives or selected noun phrases, so you’ll have to do that yourself. There are lots of opportunities to do it, it’s just not a drop-down menu.

At the moment, it costs £14.95 for an annual subscription but I can’t tell you what the benefits are because they’re not mentioned anywhere on the website. At all. I seem to be able to generate as many reports as I need with the free account so I’m not sure why I would pay for a membership. I’ve contacted the owner and we’ll see if they respond before I publish.

Example of outcome:

Milo is an able and conscientious member of the group who displays a real interest in the subject. Milo puts lots of effort into his work. Good progress overall by Milo this year. Milo can find and describe in words the rule for the next term or nth term of a sequence where the rule is linear, and can formulate and solve a variety of simple linear equations. He can represent his work with objects or pictures and discuss it and use everyday language to compare and to describe positions and properties of regular shapes. Milo can make general statements of his own based on available evidence. Milo enjoys work in all areas of mathematics and has responded well to tasks set. Overall he is working towards the expected level of his year group. Milo has gained confidence this year, trying hard to overcome any difficulties, but he must ensure that he continues to seek help if needed.

The Pros:

  • Clean, uncluttered user-interface
  • Ability to label different reports


The Cons:

  • I could only find Secondary curriculum comments
  • Lack of cohesion between comments

Overall:

If I were a Secondary teacher, I would definitely consider this. The simple, clean aesthetic is quite calming which, after a long day of teaching, is definitely a plus. As a Primary teacher, I’m not so sure. When you have fewer children (30 instead of 300), it’s more difficult to use generic reports. If more than two children have the same comments, head teachers (and parents) begin to grumble. And I do wonder about that subscription tier… what’s it for?

3/5


In summary…

Of the four options I spent some time with, I found myself drawn to School Report Writer the most. While the interface is a little messy and chaotic (sorry, Linden), the results are just way more practical for me. I also like that they have considered the inclusivity of gender fluid pupils. Again, this might not be such a big deal to a Primary school teacher but I can see it mattering to teachers of older children.

I’d love to know what your experiences are with report writer tools. 

Do you use them? Are they encouraged in your school? Are they banned? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter, Linked-In, YouTube… I’m pretty much everywhere (except TikTok and Instagram - I need to get on top of that!)

I once got so frustrated with a head teacher telling me I couldn’t use generic comments on reports that I wrote the personal comments section using nothing but Barnum statements and Rainbow sentences (Billy has a great deal of potential in his learning but he is yet to turn it to his advantage. Most of the time, he is positive and cheerful, but there are occasions when he can be upset and want to be by himself.). Every parent thanked me for such an individual report. I’m not even kidding. Do I recommend you do this yourself? It depends how annoyed you are with your line manager.

At the end of the day, the only legal requirements are to report the outcomes of any assessments and note comparisons both locally and nationally. Everything else is window dressing. It sounds cynical but it’s true. And most parents, not all, but most, just want to know if their child is happy and social.

By the way…

You could, of course, just create your own report writer by using a spreadsheet and some fairly simple code. If that is something that people seem interested in, I’ll make a video and post it on my YouTube channel.

Until next time, thanks for reading and remember, you can do this: you’re awesome!


Carl Headley-Morris


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References for this Post


  1. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1437
  2. https://www.nasuwt.org.uk/advice/conditions-of-service/workload/tackling-excessive-teacher-workload-england-wales/report-writing.html#:~:text=Teachers%20should%20only%20produce%20one%20report%20per%20year%20for%20all%20of%20the%20pupils%20they%20teach%20which%20requires%20them%20to%20make%20comments%20about%20pupils%E2%80%99%20progress%20and%20performance%20either%20in%20writing%20or%20using%20an%20electronic%20comment%20bank.
  3. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2005/1437/made#f00006:~:text=%E2%80%9Cteacher%20assessment%E2%80%9D%20means%20assessment%20of%20a%20pupil%E2%80%99s%20NC%20level%20of%20attainment%20in%20a%20subject%20by%20the%20pupil%E2%80%99s%20teacher%2C