It’s so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to

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It’s so hard when I have to, and so easy when I want to

-Sonda Anice Barnes-

The influence of school reports on the motivation of children with special educational needs

This dissertation is submitted in partial fulfilment of the

Master of Arts in Education/ Special Educational Needs

Roehampton University

Anja Timmermans – van Schijndel

Student number 04065579

September 2005

  1. Abstract

One of the goals of education should be to teach that life is precious”

Maslow, 1987, p187

This dissertation reports on the research project I carried out in a Dutch mainstream primary school, in order to find an answer to the research question: how I could change school reports in order to make them more motivating for children with Special Educational Needs.

Through the process of doing this research, I learned that my concerns about the effect of the report on the motivation of children with SEN were well-founded. But I also realised that it would not be possible to easily reshape the reports. The problems turn out to be the tip of an iceberg and the answer seemed to lie in underlying insights, influences and developments concerning the reports, the school, the education, and even society.
In undertaking this study I had three aims:

  • To understand the influence of school reports on the motivation of children with SEN.

  • To improve practice by means of adapting the school reports

  • To reflect on and improve my own skills as a change agent

I used an action research methodology; because I am convinced that educational change is not a question of simple cause and effect, but of patterns in social relations. By means of action research, I was able to improve the understanding of my educational practice, and to develop the situation in which this practice was carried out. Moreover I was able to reflect critically on my own professional and personal development.

In doing the research I developed an improved awareness of the feelings of children with SEN in relation to summative assessment. I came to understand that teachers struggle with the tension between children’s needs and a summative assessment culture.
In the course of the study I developed an understanding of the teacher’s need to reflect critically on educational and personal beliefs, insights and values.

This has implications for the way this study might be continued.

But, above all, I developed a conviction that in order to improve children’s intrinsic motivation our assessment culture needs urgently to become more formative.

  1. Acknowledgements

It is with sincerest thanks that I wish to acknowledge the following:

My husband, Wim, for his love, patience, and encouragement;
My daughter, Dorien, for her kindness and support;
My son, Luc, for his patience and his help with the computer;
My family and friends, for giving me space and time to go about my work;
My tutors, Dr. Christine Lloyd and Jos Bergkamp MA, for their expert guidance and encouragement;
My MA colleagues, for their company, for their support in difficult times, and for the fun we had learning together;
The parents and colleagues in the pilots, for spending their time and expertise. Especially my critical friends, Anny, Coen, Gerry, Mayke and Nathalie. They made me aware of the value of cooperative learning;

My native speaker, Fionnuala, who helped me to improve my English writing skills;

And above all, the six children in the pilot, for showing me the value of listening to children’s wisdom.

  1. Contents list

I. Title page

II.Abstract 2

III.Acknowledgements 3

IV.Contents list 4

1.Introduction 7

1.1. My motivation for undertaking this study 7

1.2. My personal development 8

1.3. The outline of the structure of the study 10

2.Review of the literature 12

2.1. Clarification of the key objectives 12

2.1.1.School reports 12

2.1.2.Children with Special Educational Needs 12

2.1.3.Motivation 13

2.1.4.Formative and summative assessment 13

2.2.Review of Dutch literature concerning assessment, grades and reports 14

2.2.1.Context of the Dutch education system 14

2.2.2.Assessment practices in Dutch primary mainstream education 15

2.2.3.Student monitoring system 16

2.2.4.School reports 17

2.2.5.The Dutch grading system 19

2.2.6.Recent Dutch development and discussion 19

2.3.Review of international literature 20

2.3.1.Formative and summative assessment 21

2.3.2.Motivation for learning 22

2.3.3.School reports in relation to motivation 23

2.3.4.Influence on motivation 25

2.3.5.Classroom tests 25

2.3.6.Grades 26

3.Research Methodology 28

3.1.Paradigms 28

3.1.1.Positivism 28

3.1.2.Interpretivism 29

3.2.Research 30

3.2.1.Research in education 30

3.2.2.Action Research 31

3.3.Methodology 35

3.3.1.Quantitative research 35

3.3.2.Qualitative research 36

3.3.3.Combining quantitative and qualitative research 36

3.4.Research methods 37

3.4.1.The analysis of documentary evidence 37

3.4.2.Interview 37

3.4.3.Focus group interview 40

3.5.Analysis of the data 41

3.6.Validation 42

3.7.Ethical aspects 42

4.Analysis 45

4.1.The aim of the research 45

4.2.Research design 46

4.3.The action research project 46

4.3.1.Did grades of children with SEN show their progress? 46

4.3.2.How did children with SEN feel about their reports? 48

4.3.3.What did teachers think about the influence of the school report? 52

4.3.4.Diary notes 54

4.3.5.What did parents think about the influence of the report? 54

4.3.6.Teachers’ practical ideas about the reporting system 56

4.4.The second action research cycle 57

4.4.1.The reaction of the children to the new school report 59

4.4.2.What did parents think about the influence of the new report? 59

4.4.3.What did teachers think about the influence of the new report? 61

5.Evaluation 63

5.1.The tension in education and in assessment practices 63

5.2.The school report 66

5.3.A motivating school report 69

5.4.The school report in the context of school development 71

6.Conclusion 74

6.1.Reflection on the subject of this study 74

6.1.1.The children 75

6.1.2. Children’s environment 75

6.2.Reflection on the process of this study 76

6.2.1. Action Research 77

6.2.2. The methods 78

6.3. Reflection on my own development 78

6.4. Limitations and recommendations 79

V.Bibliography 82

Roos, B., (2002) ‘ICT, Assessment and the Learning Society’ Paper presented at the 2002 conference of the European Educational Research Association, Lisbon, September. Available: 89

VI.Appendices 90

Appendix A 92

Scales 92

Appendix B 93

Flip over 93

Appendix C 94

Part of the ‘Nieuwsbrief’ (DUTCH) 94

Willingness declaration critical friends (DUTCH) 95

Willingness declaration teachers (DUTCH) 96

Willingness declaration parents (and their children)(DUTCH) 96

Appendix E 97

Ethical aspects (DUTCH) 97

Appendix F 98

Research schedule 98

Appendix G 100

Spreadsheets grades 100

Appendix H 103

Selection of the children 103

Appendix I 104

Graphs of the grades of the selected children 104

Appendix J 111

Mind maps (DUTCH) 111




Appendix K 112

Interview schedule teachers (DUTCH) 112

Analysis interviews teachers 114

Appendix L 115

Analysis interviews children 115

Appendix M 117

Diary notes 117

Appendix N 118

Powerpoint (DUTCH)

Appendix O 120

Interview schedule parents (DUTCH) 120

Appendix P 122

Analysis interviews parents 122

Appendix Q 124

Doelpunt 124

Appendix R 125

New report, example (DUTCH) 125

Appendix S 129

Cito-graphs (DUTCH) 129


Appendix T 130

Questionnaire parents (DUTCH) 130

Appendix U 133

Letter to the parents in the pilot (DUTCH) 133

Appendix V 134

Analysis focus group interview (DUTCH) 134


Appendix W 137

Original school report group 3 (DUTCH) 137

Group 4-8(DUTCH) 140

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