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School report cards: parents demand more facts and plain language.

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DR BRENDAN NELSON Australian Government Minister for Education, Science and Training

Media Release


29 January 2004 MIN 596/04

Many parents are concerned that school report cards do not provide them with the information they need to know exactly how their daughter or son is progressing at school.

I am determined to see this change.

Too many school report cards are now produced according to the overriding principle that students and parents must not access any information which provides a guide about a student’s performance relative to others in the class, year or cohort.

Many parents would not be aware that Australian Education Union (AEU) policy specifically prohibits schools providing this information to parents. The sorts of report cards which are acceptable to the AEU are “narrative” and not “graded”.

Research conducted for the Australian Government in 2000 by Professor Peter Cuttance and Shirley Stokes from the University of Sydney, confirmed that this is out of step with parental expectations.

In their report, Reporting on Student and School Achievement, Cuttance and Stokes wrote that;

“The lack of clarity and vagueness noted by many parents in reports was considered by others to be due to a lack of objective standards through which they could really see where their child ‘was at’.” pg 48, Reporting on Student and School


“In discussions with parents the need for comparative information on student achievement was raised more frequently than any other issue relating to reporting on children’s progress.”

pg 48, Reporting on Student and School


Cuttance and Stokes also reported that “parents believe that advice can be ‘honest’ without being negative” and quotes a parent who said;

“If the child is failing, they want it said on [the report]. They don’t want some politically correct thing on there. [Parents] want to know in black and white [how their children are achieving].” pg 46, Reporting on Student and School


How are parents to determine whether they need to provide additional support to their children in specific areas?

What motivation is there for students to work even harder when they will never be told they are excelling?

Every child is different. The real world is competitive and parents want reports that inform them meaningfully about how their children are going.

I am in the process of determining the next quadrennium funding agreement for state, independent and Catholic schools.

This is a matter to be addressed.

Many parents have expressed their concerns to me over this issue.

If any parent considers that the school reports they have received are unintelligible or contain insufficient information about their child’s progress, I would be more than happy to receive a copy that does not identify either the child or school.

Please mail or fax your reports to: Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600 Australia Fax: (02) 6273 4116

The report is available at

Media contact: Dr Nelson’s Office: Ross Hampton 0419 484 095