How can we reduce the workload-frenzy of marking for teachers?
As ‘progress over time’ becomes the new vogue for judging the quality of teaching and learning, in and out of lessons, it is important that the equivalent substitutes are counter-balanced.
The trusted, excellent and wonderful @MaryMyatt also blogged on More About Marking. It appears to becoming more and more obvious, that marking has replaced ‘progress in one-off’ lessons as the latest pressure point for teachers. Perhaps even a new myth and unachievable workload for every teacher? As I look to review our school marking policy, I am keen to establish a simple common framework/expectation for all teachers across my school, as well as stipulate what is the bare minimum expectation, as well as what is unnecessary i.e. what not to mark.
Marking is Broken
Eighteen months ago, deputy headteacher @MrLockyer said; “marking is broken” (2013) and I have found myself agreeing with him ever since. On the occasions I have read and spoken with Lockyer, he explains that there are five key stakeholders when it comes to marking: parents, inspectors, senior leaders, teachers and students. Here is what he says about each group with a few additional thoughts from me.
- Parents love reading marking in their child’s book. It shows their child has been taught and that the teacher has spent time working with them.
- Senior leaders also enjoy evidence of marking. Looking at marking is a quick snapshot system of identifying work output from staff and pupils.
- Inspectors adore marking. So much so, when they came to inspect teaching in my school into the 3rd week of this school year, they referred back to marking in books from the previous academic year! Inspectors make a valued judgement once every three years, and marking is some of the only tangible evidence that there is to demonstrate that there has been some teaching in the previous year. The question remains, has marking aided progress and have students acted on feedback? Only books and results will provide this hard evidence – this is where I believe the marking frenzy stems from.
- Teachers. Hands up? No teacher loves *marking. Why is this? Well, in my view, teachers are not given enough time within their directed time / workload to be able to complete the demands of marking placed upon them. This needs to change and no politician or school will be able to eradicate this problem unless a genuine workload is addressed with a budget, used to reduce teaching hours and replace this with time for planning and marking! Simple.
- Students. Kids rarely get the value of marking either. Very often they seek a reward, and rarely read the comments. All sorts of strategies are manufactured in order for students to act on feedback before receiving the rewards of ‘a grade.’
This leaves us with a huge problem – the two key stakeholders in marking – the producer (teacher) and consumer (student) – get the least from it. How could we change this? Source: You can read @MrLockyer‘s presentation slides here.
Fewer Things, Done Well
In Myatt’s blog, she says;
“In the third mention of marking in the [School Inspection] handbook is in the outstanding section for the quality of teaching. It says ‘consistently high quality marking and constructive feedback from teachers ensure that pupils make significant and sustained gains in their learning.’ High quality, not truck-loads of ticks. Fewer things, done really well.”
And why do I state such a frenzy brewing with marking? Well just take a look at the opening line on Myatt’s blog here on Most Commons Areas for Improvement in over 200 inspection reports!
“They are a cross-section judged to be outstanding, good or requiring improvement. These are the themes mentioned most frequently: feedback to students and what happens to that feedback … The quality of feedback has been high on the list of areas for improvement for some years. The commentary now appears to extend to what is done with the feedback.”
And there we go.
Welcome to The Marking Frenzy!
Since I wrote this post in 2014 (now editing again in 2018), OfSTED can no-longer make recommendations to schools about ‘how they mark’. However, my research in U.K. schools over the past 9 months highlights teachers are still struggling under the marking burden.
To reduce the potential marking frenzy in my school, I intend to address high quality feedback – pinpointed and sophisticated – and eradicate the ‘well done’ comments, the ‘seen by the teacher’ stamps and ask staff to focus on ‘less is more’, but not at the expense of the teacher or the curriculum to aid the observer!
Should I be marking every piece of work?
No! What inspections, school leaders, parents and our students should be looking for, is that there is high quality feedback which crucially is acted on by the individual.
How often should we feedback?
Too often what inspectors, school leaders and observers in lessons see, is feedback without any response. So, how can this feedback be helping the student progress is there is no evidence? Well, I argue that some evidence can be verbal and physical, and that not everything needs to be written in books or assessment sheets.
Useful Feedback Strategies
These suggestions are over time and not every 15-30 minutes in each lesson. There is also an excellent overview of ideas by @dan_brinton in his blog here. You can also find over 30 ideas(!) for marking and assessment in Amjad Ali’s Toolkit blog. You can follow him on Twitter @ASTsupportAAli
- Coloured post it notes by @MoheeniPatel
- Verbal feedback
- Assessment stamps and symbols.
- Detailed marking for substantial pieces of work which have been developed over time.
Clarification for Schools
The latest publication by Ofsted, published on 17th October 2014 confirm facts about the requirements of Ofsted and to dispel myths that can result in unnecessary workloads in schools. It is vital reading. Download it here: Ofsted inspections – clarification for schools.
Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders.
For me, the answer lies within the profession. You know your students better than me. You know what works best in your school and what will aid student progress and what won’t. You also know the needs of your teaching staff and their current workload. This will also be matched alongside your school priorities and the quality of teaching and learning in your school.
Assessment and marking is a huge priority to raise standards of teaching and learning in every school, but not as a stick to beat teachers with! As I review our assessment, marking and homework policies in my school, we will be working very hard to address ‘little and often’ as well as ‘quality not quantity.
A useful Oscar Wilde quote comes to mind: “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”