The #UglyTruth revisited: Marking; monitoring and progress by @TeacherToolkit

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In this blog, I aim to show how a department can evolve throughout the academic year; given our recent focus on departmental and whole-school, book-monitoring.

The evidence is clear … Teachers must mark books.


Back in December 2013, I wrote about #BookLooks and Mantras: The Ugly Truth; regarding what we have managed to achieve in the Autumn term (this academic year) and what impact this was having, on raising standards of teaching and learning. Two terms later, I have questioned how we have moved on with teaching and learning. Particularly given the recent @OfstedNews headlines regarding observations, and in light of the An edu-bloggers mandate to @OfstedNews!

Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: giulia.forsythe via Compfight cc

The Ugly Truth?

My Principal and I, duly titled this: ‘The Ugly Truth’ back in December. Our point of view, was that the half-termly process of reporting on standards, would highlight (the real picture of) day-to-day evidence; versus the abnormal appraisal process, which showcases teachers at their best (or worst) without taking into account the big picture; ‘progress over time’. Or, put simply, The Ugly Truth.

If we have a fairer system for judging teachers based on student progress, and the evidence provided  offers an improved system for supporting teachers, other than a one-off lesson observation … Then we are moving forward in the right direction. I have blogged about how we are addressing Progress Over Time, and will shortly be updating our staff, on our whole-school processes. I will share this with you all soon.

Progress over time:

I tweeted this photo last week, from a document I hope to publish to all our staff next term. What we are trying to do, is capture all the various sources – without making any assumption on percentages or weighting; in order to make reliable and accurate judgements. More importantly, a fairer assessment on the quality of teaching and learning of individual teachers; students; learner-groups and classrooms.

Click to open
Click to open

So, the evidence? If student books will be used to gather evidence of progress over time; oddly-enough, teachers will mark their books. The evidence below suggests this! Students will receive marked work – more frequently – and will also receive feedback. I cannot guarantee the quality at the moment; as I have not looked in every teacher’s set of books, but middle and senior leaders have, and given this improvement in marking, we can now tailor our focus on looking for evidence of quality marking.

There are a multitude of factors to be asked here; as well as a need for context; further conversatuions with staff and of course, training opportunites. We know our staff are feeling #ThePinch, so we keep this in mind too.

This evidence of quality will vary in quality and frequency, from faculty to faculty; teacher to teacher; and from talking to students, our sourcing of evidence from individuals will aim to provide evidence of ‘acting on feedback’ and ‘re-drafting’ work.


Here is a reminder of the simple whole-school document we are using. Remember, this is school-specific, so I am not advocating this as a model for everyone to use.

Initial template
Initial template

October 2013:

Here is a snapshot of one faculty. The columns at the top of each database are taken from the template above.

  • KEY:
  • Y = Yes
  • N = No
  • B = But

You can see for yourself, that the range of books sampled vary significantly. Can I stress here, that NO Oftsed grading is used. We have used our own criteria based on our own school priorities. Initially, we emphasised the importance on having ‘books marked’ as the key source of evidence we wanted to find.

In this case, this led to conversations with two members of staff. “Mark your books!”

Information is anonymised and presented in random order.

Even me!

Can I just state, I am included in this list above, as one of the teachers ‘not marked’. How embarrassing?! Of course, regardless of the fact that I am teaching a new subject, I hold my hands up and have used this information personally as a teacher; but also, to apply this process and put it into context as a senior leader; how do we make assessments of all classes observed?

Context is needed.

Do observers choose students at random? Are students selected according to ability? Is there a medium-sample-range of books used?

For example, assessment procedures vary form subject-to-subject; key-stage to key-stage. If work is completed on a PC, or as part of a controlled assessment, does that allow you to mark student work in the same manner as a simple exercise book with typical classwork evident? Can this be observed in the same way?

How can teachers adapt to suit this monitoring process? Is there a danger, that this become another stick to beat teachers with? Or does this become another box-ticking exercise for all; not just the observer, to just meet this monitoring process? I do have these fears and I am determined to modify this process so that we keep to our overall aim: to improve the quality of teaching and learning (marking).

These are all important questions to ask.

December 2013:

Given the information above, once shared with middle leaders and teachers, small improvements were made across the faculty. The whole-school focus shifted, from ‘just marking books’, to providing evidence of student feedback. The majority of the faculty had improved its evidence.

Information is anonymised and presented in random order.

February 2014:

And even better …

Information is anonymised and presented in random order.


We aim to get straight to the point regarding our school priorities.

  1. Provide clear evidence of re-drafting work; based on teacher and student feedback.
  2. Evidence of challenging gifted and talented students.

I saw this photo tweeted by @HarrisGreenwich. I have observed this in many visits to other schools and the photo ‘speaks a thousand words’. Quality; transparency; CPD; and a culture of sharing best practice. I dream of this image happening in my own school. It would certainly be a great day for moving us all forward; even me!

Harris staff checking out the quality of books and marking across the curriculum .
Harris staff checking out the quality of books and marking across the curriculum .

Related posts:

Mrs Murton ‏aka @DodoMurt:   "@NatashaRoberts5 presenting the #5minmarkingplan at @MeltonValeP16 staff inset."
Mrs Murton ‏aka @DodoMurt:
“@NatashaRoberts5 presenting the #5minmarkingplan at @MeltonValeP16 staff inset.”
6. The 5 Minute Marking Plan
6. The 5 Minute Marking Plan

13 thoughts on “The #UglyTruth revisited: Marking; monitoring and progress by @TeacherToolkit

    1. Hi Michael. Not sure how to reply to you comment… We do plan to sample individual students and sample levelled work if that is what you mean. It does happen in departments, but not across the school.

      1. My comment was more in amazement that your pro forma includes the requirement that work is levelled. That seems to me a crazy expectation, particularly in light of all the recent discussions about grading lessons and the like. One rule for us…?

  1. Pingback: We must mark our books! - The Happy Teacher
  2. Give a formative and summative comment and you diminish the impact of the former. Research suggests kids are more interested in ranking themselves among their peers using the grades rather than engaging with the much much more useful feedback.

    Of course this can be combated to an extent with DIRT, and I understand the Ofsted pressure to demonstrate we know pupils’ working at levels.

    But I must agree with Michael. Do you require each piece of work to include a NC level? A single piece of work cannot be a certain level, only a body of work over sustained time. I put a grade for each students work at the end of a half term as part of my marking, but not on a single piece of work.

    I like the tracking and monitoring spreadsheets. And the clear expectations this communicates. Have you seen a matched improvement in pupil performance with improved marking?

    1. Nowhere has the proforma or the blog asked for every piece of work to be leveled… This is about “progress over time” and teacher-reports of students, will indicate what progress has been made.

      We are soon to analyse the data against class performance and residuals.

      1. Thank you for clarifying-I was not suggesting each piece had a level; I was querying if this was the case.

        I like your comment below about avoiding a one-style-fits-all approach. I wonder: do you think there is merit to department-specific marking and assessment routines/policies. Or is a single, whole-school approach better?

        I see that your policy prescribes certain things (marking for accuracy, presentation, peer and self assessment). Do you mandate HOW the books are marked, (e.g. WWW/EBI, stars and a wish, SITA) or do you allow teachers to develop their own approach, provided it provides rigorous feedback?

      2. We wanted teachers to mark books; hence the template. Now we know teachers are marking books; we can take a step back in terms of departmental policy; but only with departments we are confident with evidence.

  3. You make some interesting points. I have a few questions/points. How do you judge progress over time in PE for example? Or subjects where they might not be producing written work? Does this mean subjects without books are exempt or that verbal feedback is not considered?
    How about subjects like maths where you might be moving through topics at a pace of one per lesson, where almost any comment would be “late” or “not relevant” to the work that comes next?
    This also raises the point of how you could judge progress over time with subjects that teach through a spiral SoL based on knowledge, where again the timescales involved make it very difficult to make timely comments?
    I have heard that in some schools pupils ae encouraged to write verbal feedback down, which is perhaps not the best use of time.
    Please do not think I am anti-marking, but many leadership teams are very happy to apply one-size fits all thinking to issues like this. Each subject has its own quirks that are often ignored in search for a panacea.
    MK, busy marking books!

    1. Some valid point Michael. Like any good leadership in school; everything needs context and a ‘sensible hat’. Each subject produces various sources of evidence and it is vital that whomever is observing and scrutinising the data, can make a thorough; fair and accurate assessment. This is tough when non-subject specialists are used to gather evidence. Just the same for observing teaching… but with experience, it can be done.
      In PE; you would need to assess students subject vocabulary and understanding of subject skills; knowledge and their application terminology, coupled with their understanding of physical activity. Can a student provide verbal dialogue to support why ‘the elbow/arm must follow through the hip, when swinging at a tennis ball?’ Can they articulate this and demonstrate the varying levels of ability? For me, this would be clear evidence of progress over time; embedded routines of formative and summative assessment. In terms of verbal feedback in Maths for topics; teacher-clarity and explicit feedback would ensure that students were acting on feedback. If they could demonstrate this in conversation – by gathering prior knowledge to apply understanding to a new topic, I would be confident of evidence of students making progress over time.

      To reiterate; everything evidence must take into account the context of the class. Whatever is being taught; whatever information is being gathered to validate judgements; there must be demonstrable evidence to support progress of all learner’s, over a period of time. I guess it is up to all schools, to decide how best to monitor and evidence this. For us, this blog is entirely school-specific to our own needs.

      I would advocate students reflecting and responding to your comments. If not, then they need to show that they can provide evidence of your verbal/written feedback. In PE, how can this be done?
      Believe me, I am keen to challenge a one-size fits all model and I am keen to ensure that it does not happen here. So very easy to do, now we know how information is collected. The priority now, is to judge the quality of marking and apply a differentiated context for all teachers; all classes/books being observed and types of assessment and evidence base in different subjects.

      To much to discuss here in a blog and hope that above helps.

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