School Record Cards

Mauritius Times – 60 Years

By Peter Ibbotson

At the outset, let me remind readers that education in England and Wales is administered by Local Education Authorities as partners with the Ministry of Education; but whereas in Mauritius the Education Authorities are religious in their composition, in England and Wales the Education Authorities (known as LEA’s for short) are territorially composed. Each is responsible for the schools and pupils in a given area. Not all LEA’s are large; the number of children for which a particular LEA is responsible ranges from 433,000 in London and 317,000 in Lancashire down to 6,600 in Eastbourne and 5,800 in Canterbury.

Each LEA can decide for itself just how to select children of 11 for grammar school education, i.e., for secondary education as the term is still regrettably still interpreted almost throughout the whole British colonial empire. But the pattern of selection follows a generally discernible trend: tests in English and arithmetic, with also an intelligence test. Coaching undoubtedly improves a pupil’s possible performance in such tests; most LEA’s recognise this by providing facilities for all pupils to have practise tests in school, so that the beneficent effects (to a few pupils) of coaching are in some degree negatived. Research has found that there is an upward limit to the amount of improvement in performance which can be achieved by coaching in intelligence tests; and this limit can be reached by the small amount of practice allowed in schools.

A growing number of LEA’s, however, relies on additional methods of selection for secondary education. One very popular additional method is the use of the school (or teachers’) record card. In 1952 the National Foundation for Educational Research found that 29.6% of LEA’s used record cards to help in selecting all pupils for secondary schools, and a further 7.6% used them to help with certain groups of pupils. By 1950, only four years later, 33.3% of LEA’s., that is one in every three, were using record cards for all pupils, and many others consulted the record cards for certain pupils; for the “borderline” group, in fact — those who were on the fringe of a grammar school education. In their case the entries on the record card would supplement the evidence of the selection examination marks.

In a later article, I will deal with intelligence tests as a means of selection for secondary education. Now, however, I wish to deal with the school record card, since it is an innovation which, I feel, might commend itself to use in Mauritius. It would presumably be one of the matters to be considered by the Commission of Enquiry to which I referred, and which I suggested might profitably be set up, the other week — a Commission to enquire into the provision of secondary education in Mauritius with particular reference to means of selection.

A record card is a means whereby teachers can note, throughout a pupil’s school career, noteworthy data about their pupils. Where they are in use under a L.E.A., a card is opened for each child when it starts school — this being at the age of five or thereabouts. Regular entries on the card summarise the child’s attendance during the school year; when the child is due to leave the infant school and go up to a junior school (or, if his school caters for both infants and juniors, when he is due to leave the infants’ department for the junior department), his infant teacher enters on the card in the space provided an estimate of the child’s attainment in 1 oral and written expression, reading, and in number.

The estimate is graded on a five-point scale, as it is called: A for well above average, B for above average, C for average, D for below average, and E for well below average. “Average” means average for the particular school attended by the particular child; since standards at different schools vary according to the social class from which the bulk of the pupils are drawn, it naturally follows that “average” for one school might well be equivalent only to a “below average” degree of attainment at another school whose children were cleverer. The infant teachers can also give a general assessment and thumbnail character sketch of each child, as well as give (if they wish, as many do) the point which the child has reached in his reading ability.

In the junior school or department, which the child enters in the September following his seventh birthday, the card is completed every year. On the record cards most widely in use in London, the child’s junior school teachers grade him each year (again A, B, C, D. E, having the same meanings) in oral expression, written expression, reading, comprehension of English, Arithmetic, and such other subjects as they wish to specify in the spaces provided.

Normally these other subjects include Geography, History, Science, Art, Handicrafts and P.T. At the end of the child’s junior school career, when he is eleven, a comprehensive entry goes on to the record card. The teacher summarises the child’s activities and interests, his personal characteristics, and his abilities. The last is again according to the five-point scale A, B, C, D, E; the others can be the subject of a thumbnail sketch. Opportunity is also provided for the teacher to give a comprehensive study of the child in a section of the card headed “remarks” and many teachers use this to give a brief but pungent character study of their pupils.

When the child is graded A, B, C, D, or E in the various subjects each year during his junior school career, the teacher making the assessment of ability signs and dates the card and can amplify the assessment by remarks if he so wishes. Some teachers are adept at summing up a child in a minimum of words; who cannot, for example, picture the child whose performance in English is described by his teacher as “imperturbably inept”? whose arithmetic is described as “original but inaccurate”? whose outstanding characteristic is said to be “cheerful vacuity”?

The record cards accompany the children to their secondary schools, where for the first two years the teachers make entries similar to those made during the four junior school years. At the end of the child’s first two years, another summary of his activities and interests, his characteristics, and his ability, is made comprehensively.

Space is also provided for medical records, which are relevant to any backwardness which may be present, and for explanations of long breaks in attendance. The whole card, when completed, gives an overall picture of the child’s school career as seen through the eyes of his teachers who, to complete the cards carefully and accurately, spend a considerable amount of time (out of school, of course) carefully considering each child individually before making estimates of character and so on.

The card I have briefly described is that in use in London. Other LEA’s have variations on this card or use a completely different card altogether. Some are much more comprehensive; the junior record card issued by the National Foundation for Educational Research, for example, asks teachers to comment (using the five-point scale) on seven temperamental qualities: prevailing attitude, self-confidence, self-criticism, sociability, co-operation, perseverance, and conscientiousness. Each grade of each quality is described by a brief pen-picture so that teachers may know what the compilers of the card had in mind. For example, grade E of co-operation is described as “churlish, sullen, not cooperative” — which suggests that Hon. Bissoondoyal wouldn’t get high marks under this heading!

The record card used in Southampton (which is reproduced at pages 122-123 of J.J.B. Dempster’s Selection for Secondary Education) selects a few contrasting adjectives that are important from the school’s point of view — keen, indifferent, communicative, reticent, thorough, casual, equable, erratic — and asks teachers each year to tick whichever appears to them to fit their pupils. A tick means a noteworthy trait; the lack of a tick, that the child lacks noteworthy qualities.

A number of criticisms have been levelled against the use of the record cards; but the one big thing in their favour is, I submit, the opportunity they afford teachers to regard their pupils as individuals in their own right, not just as names on an exercise book. And this, which humanises education, is nothing but good.

6th Year – No 260
Friday 7th August 1959

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