Felt Parrot


We’ve had a half term report and there’s been much tearing out of hair and critical analysis of where it’s all going wrong.

Our 9 year old son has scored below average in one of his tests and the teacher’s comments were very ho hum indeed. ‘Could do better’ didn’t even begin to cover it. What was his mark?


The average was 99%.

I’ll be talking about the education treadmill and the ever increasing speed of its conveyor belt in my next post, but in the meantime, here’s a little look at how school reports have changed in 35 years.

Tableau D'Honneur

(My reports from the Lycée are thankfully lost, but I’ve mocked one up in the form of a Diploma they awarded for endeavour. Everything looks a bit better with decorative scrollwork round the margins don’t you think? Even a death certificate).

When fishes flew and forests walked, I went to a vast French school where education meant getting beaten up daily by the bigger kids in an asphalt playground that had no beginning or end. My parents weren’t French, but spoke the language up to a point and were eager to be part of the Common Market as we used to call the EEC. So, while they remained in Little England, they thrust their eldest children through the doors of a wider European community to experience complex and sophisticated cultures outside of our own. The toilet floors were awash in a permanent pool of pee, we had radishes or powdered mash for lunch and a dining hall smelling of detergent. In class they stood you in a corner with a dunces hat on if you didn’t understand and shouted at you in a foreign language.


My sister and I would often come home covered in bruises, and, worse still, my apple and a miniature box of squashed but comforting Sunblest raisins would be filched by some ratty kid who had a stronger sense of survival than I did. It would’ve helped if someone had explained to me at the age of four what the fuck was going on – none of the lessons were in English.

The French reports painted a picture of a little girl painfully at odds with the regime, out of her depth and unable or unwilling to join in. They never saw me smile. 

I stayed for two years.

Whether my parents had taken against President Charles de Gaulle who’d vetoed the UK’s membership of the EEC, or had eventually found a French-English dictionary, who knows, but one day, aged just 7, I found myself installed in a small private school where bowler-hatted dads paid through the nose to have their daughters waft around in a uniform that included white gloves to play in the park and giant blue Victorian bloomers. Not very European, but at least the reports were in English.

To be a success at this new school, you needed to have won the ‘Deportment Badge’ that week. This mainly involved walking with a straight back and having as little ink, snot or spinach stains on your pinafore as possible. A girl called Alice seemed to win it every week which rendered the rest of us less prepared than her apparently for genteel society.

This is one of my first reports; I think we were being trained for high office. 

Knitting report

I clearly remember my father’s pained expression when he realised it had cost him cost him £300.

Chelsea Football

Incidentally, this is not a drawing of my own sorry attempts with needles and wool, but my older sister’s scarf. She was knitting it for her boyfriend at the time but had no idea how to finish, so just kept going with the alternate blue and white wool. He was a Chelsea supporter when she started, though by the time she’d finally learned how to cast off about 100 metres later, he may have begun to follow another football team. Or died.

The next term, another of my impressive reports appeared:


Jo's felt parrot

Here’s roughly what it looked like:

Felt parrot

Fast forward a generation, and our son receives this report at the end of last term. 


Acrylic parrot painting

Constructive criticism, and a detailed account of his achievement, together with encouraging remarks to bolster self confidence –

acrylic parrot painting

But FFS, it’s a BLOODY PARROT PAINTING. Tell it like it is, man! He did some splodgy artwork and wasn’t concentrating. I think my own childhood report was MILES better.

Incidentally, no doubt the ex-Michael Gove’s education ‘reforms’ have left their mark, leaving a legacy which still filters through schools’ art departments and subliminally informing us that children should absorb everything by rote and not think for themselves. How convenient. 

Yes, the subtext is obviously that they should learn …


Now would you rather have had mine or my son’s report, and what’s the funniest one you’ve ever seen?

A prize of my children’s book, ‘The Barmies‘, if it makes me laugh out loud.


Are you a pushy parent?



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  1. my favourite so far has been my son Lewis’s report. Lewis’s teacher (male) really bonded with him, but was less pleased with being legged up on the football field 😀

    1. Amazing isn’t it how wimpy some of these teachers are? When you say ‘legged up’, do you mean he scrambled over him or ran faster?

    1. There was no attempt to blow smoke up the parents’ communal arses in those days. That’s what i liked. I haven’t unfortunately got over my parrot episode. It comes up regularly in analysis:

      Therapist: “So how’ve you been this week, Jo?”
      Me: “So how’ve you been this week, Jo?”
      Therapist: “I see you’re still fixated on your felt parrot…” X

  2. When the eldest first start school, her report cards were great because teachers were actually allowed to write exactly what the child was doing in school. Eventually that was thrown out the window for computer printouts where the teacher picked say 1 to 5, to best describe how your son/daughter was doing. After a while I just stopped reading them. I figured if my kid(s) were really screwing up they would call.

    1. I approve of your laid back approach to parenting Catherine. However, were you sure it was the teacher who was selecting the grades and not a random algorithm? Suppose the kids have made it to College so it must have worked anyway x

      1. I am sure it was the teacher who had to choose the appropriate number to describe how my child was doing in school. The teachers actually complained about the program. Yes, all three of our children made it to college and university, but to be honest I do not give elementary school a whole lot of credit in that area of education. I am very disappointed in the Canadian education system, it needs far too many improvements because too many kids are lost in the system.

        1. Sounds like the experiences of many people over here too. There’s something so anonymous and soul-destroying about being allocated a number as though they’re some sort of hospitality evaluation form. Good to hear from you as ever, Catherine.

  3. It amazes me when you have a child that gets 100% for her maths’ AS level exams and yet the teacher still gives a low forecast for the year ahead. How will that look for any prospective universities?

    Also, I remember when she got straight 5s across her KS2 stats, and yet she was forecast by the ‘Government’ to only get Bs in her GCSEs. The reason why: she lived in a crap part of Reading and went to a crappy school – apparently demographics say more than actual results.

    That did it for her, and determined to prove them wrong she promptly went and got 10 A*s. And yet she still continues to receive crappy forecasts – something’s wrong somewhere (perhaps the computer’s algorithms need a swift kick in an appropriate vulnerable place?).

    Of course my son didn’t get any of this, because he went to a grammar school…

    1. What we do best in this country. Let’s all be miserable, gloomy and predict the worst for our children. Because guess what? It’s great for undermining their confidence. Perhaps it’s a psychological ploy to give them a kick up the backside, in which case it’s going to work for a few of them, but still nuts.
      How come your daughter didn’t go to grammar school too? Well done her for brilliant results btw

      1. She wasn’t in the right mindset at age 11. But come 14 everything changed, when she realised she didn’t want to be like the other girls and end up pregnant on the dole in a council house. She quickly developed an extra thick skin, ignored her new nickname ‘boffin’ and got down to work. We suggested she should resit the grammar school entrance exams at 13 and 16, but she didn’t want to suddenly go from the top to somewhere in the middle. Even so, I think it would have done her some good and she would have got a heck of a lot better teachers, especially for Maths and Physics.

        1. She does sound incredibly mature and perhaps after all it was good for her to shine in the place she was in already.
          The lovely thing about growing up is finding good teachers for yourself later on.

    1. Good to hear from you Abby and thanks for thumbs up. And what a scarf it was. She knitted it on those huge tree trunk-like wooden knitting needles, so should only have taken about five minutes and three rows. X

  4. Great post. I can’t really remember my reports, but I was a bit of a swot so they were probably ‘good marks, needs to talk up more in class’…very different to now where I don’t really shut up.

    I seemed to get away with murder in some creative lessons though – I remember choosing to make some trousers in textiles from a hideous material. God knows what the teacher was doing during lessons, as I didn’t get past tacking them together. By the time my mum found my ‘progress’ they’d have been shorts on me.

    N doesn’t really get reports, but his learning journal from nursery is funny. From his nursery school, it’s mostly full of photos of him and one of the other boys dressing up in princess outfits.

    1. Sounds like you took heed of the teacher’s advice in that report! I also remember my son’s nursery report where rather alarmingly, they pointed to his superb ability at handling knives.

  5. I once had a small run-in with my erstwhile university supervisor who, having cast an eye over my essay on the Corn Laws, said it was perfectly clear that on my list of priorities, the hairdresser came higher up than either she or the Corn Laws did. The memory of my insensitive reply keeps me awake in the small hours. Now I’m older, I realise of course the poor lady needed counselling. Maybe it’s not too late… Please could you ask your therapist to contact me immediately?

  6. Love this. Really made me laugh, but also think.
    My genius boy was told by the teacher who rejected his intelligence that he ‘had a tendency to be silly’. SILLY! AT 5?! Shocking! To be honest I was pleased he was silly sometimes because it proved he was normal, despite the intelligence.

    1. You’re right Sarah, and it would helped his teacher to have a silly day at school herself. What I love about my son’s school is the staff’s ability to take the Michael out of themselves and wear outrageous outfits on dressing up days. It permeates the atmosphere right across the school. Silly is good.

  7. Had to laugh at the slow progress with knitting report. Needlework lessons were my nightmare at school – I was so glad to give it up when I did my options. My son’s school sets such high standards. My son is in a remedial handwriting group even though his writing is at the national average.

    1. If he’s in a remedial handwriting group, that means he’s on track to be a doctor. Seriously though, my son was in a remedial handwriting group a couple of years back. I suspect the problem was that he spent more time doodling cartoons in the margins than crossing his ‘t’s and dotting his ‘i’s.

  8. I couldn’t stop chuckling at your sisters scarf, I am imagining him walking around with it wrapped around himself about 6 times. Ahhh I have these reports to look forward to from next year then? Maybe I should make a head start on colouring in parrots with Z?

    1. There’re few things as disheartening as a report that doesn’t do justice to who your child is, and few things as enjoyable as knowing there’s a teacher who understands them. Good luck next year and definitely make a start on the parrot colouring in – it’ll come up by Year 1 at the very latest. x

    1. Thanks Kerrie – the drawing of the smoking parrot was one I mocked up as my son would have been appalled at his real artwork appearing on my blog. OH thinks quite correctly that it looks just like my Dad who’s a 60 a day man. x

  9. OMG, the ordeal you went through at that French school, and later the Victorian bloomers school. ‘Tis a wonder you learned anything at all! My mother had a similar experience at her boarding school, where all you were expected to do was to become a rich man’s wife or a governess. How ignorant rich families are when they try to find suitable educational establishments for their little girls, especially when all they are good at is drawing.

    1. All I’m good at is drawing eh? I bake a mean Victoria sponge I’ll have you know Alice and can also do hospital corners if the staff are out. Honestly.

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