Whole-School Marking: What? Why? How?

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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How would you go about creating marking consistency to have impact students, whilst aiming for workload reduction? How would you go about developing a consistent (marking) approach across a large secondary school?

More and more, I am enjoying blogging about marking and working out ways in which we can mark smarter to reduce workload, whilst improving impact on students. It’s a hard challenge I know … At present and on a whole-school level, marking is our current focus for the term ahead. Last week, we launched part one of a three-part Learning Policy that we are introducing to all teachers across the school.

In our school, we do not grade individual lessons as we understand that a wider evidence base, developing the teacher in a progress-over-time methodology is required. Our evolving a mark-plan-teach philosophy, alongside a range of tools, strategies and sources of evidence will also be designed/considered. Here, I share the first part of our mark-plan-teach pedagogy that forms part of a one-page summary, and behind this synopsis, sits a deeper learning policy full of context (for teaching in our school with our students); equipped with rationale, appendices and examples.

Here is the current one-page summary; the full policy will be published later this autumn.

Learning Policy September 2015

What is a Learning Policy?

  1. It will define the consistencies = job easier. Particular aspects, e.g. the yellow box need to become common practice in the same way as our Behaviour for Learning policy.

When developing a marking framework for all, it is important to keep in mind the following. I call this my 5-point (action) plan which is shown below;Learning Policy


Why a Learning Policy?

  1. To make expectations simple and clearer. To equip every teacher; knowing the ‘same is going on in other classrooms … 
  2. All of Mark-Plan-Teach will be monitored, but the purpose is to ensure a ‘progress over time’ methodology rather than ease of monitoring …

Time spent marking must help:

  • Identify common errors
  • Students to correct / improv
  • Re-teach parts of the lesson
  • Inform future teaching.

How will the Learning Policy work?

  1. The key areas have been divided into 3 main sections; ‘Mark – Plan – Teach.’ There is a one page summary for easy-access and office displays; and a (soon to come) detailed policy that sits behind the summary with examples.
  2. The policy also offers some clarity about what is not required and the overall impact on quality not quantity. An old example is here.

A Framework for All:

What is the purpose of marking? Well, marking and assessment has two purposes.

  • One, students act on feedback to make progress over time.
  • Two, it informs future planning and teaching.

shutterstock_164481656 stressed teacher trying to mark a pile of students work

Image: Shutterstock

Marking is a dialogue between teacher and student. It should be something that students use to understand and try to improve; the aim of effective marking is to get students to engage with the feedback and then take action in order to improve their learning. Most importantly, marking should enable students to act on feedback.

Marking Code:

At our school, we are currently agreeing and finalising a marking code and defining the following points with further detail, context and examples to support the one-page summary.

  1. Teachers must have a secure overview of the starting points, progress and context of all.
  2. Marking must be primarily formative, may be selective, and include use of yellow box methodology which is clear about what students must act upon.
  3. Marking and feedback must be regular
  4. The marking code must be used.

Here is an example of our start-up Marking Code:

Marking Code Learning Policy

The marking code must be used.

The marking code must be displayed in every classroom in at least size A1. When used by everyone it saves on time without detriment to the overall impact. The students must feel that their work is marked in the same way across the school. Symbols from the code should be predominantly in the margin in written work; the key is that students understand where they are making mistakes or their work needs to be improved. The same symbols should be used when marking electronically.

No other symbols should be used, such as codes for effort. Marks are acceptable as part of, for example, a test with twenty questions or a sample examination paper. Assessment should be commensurate with how they are reported to parents.

Other Tips:

Before the summer, I shared 12 Ways to Embrace Marking and Feedback.

Marking and Feedback

Most recently, I asked all teachers to Claim Back Your Weekend by marking smarter not harder.

Marking WeekendWhat do you think?

How would you go about creating marking consistency for impact and workload reduction?



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10 thoughts on “Whole-School Marking: What? Why? How?

  1. Morning Ross,

    Our feedback procedure was launched at the start of term. Will let you know how it goes!
    Thanks to you and @learningspy for inspiration! WE have gone down the selective and DEpt. ownership route. Using coloured pens, though, I’m afraid!

  2. Why does marking have to be consistent across the whole school?
    As long as an individual teacher is reasonably consistent within themselves
    Are we trying to create a generation of robot teachers? we are different and always will be.
    Maths departments across the land are blighted by whole school policies
    I will soon be making a case to the marking working group that maths is different
    The tick and cross are internationally known established symbols (I know there’s more to it than that)
    Anyway too often school have a policy based on essay type subjects and insist that maths depts make their policy work somehow.

    1. As a technology teacher, I agree entirely. Marking sketches, annotations and models cannot be marked with a tick or a cross; nor essay-style responses.
      The key is to have a policy that states minimum expectations for all, hence what we have said in our Learning Policy, and then provide a range of examples by subject and leave the teachers to determine what works within the overall framework.

      1. It’s great that you acknowledge that subjects are different. I don’t know your school so can’t judge and maybe things are OK but I have read your seemingly easy marking policy…yellow boxes, certain coded letters in the margin. I suppose it depends how it is applied. I would question why even two different English teachers need to indicate a spelling problem in the same way. It could be circled, underlined, etc surely as long as it’s been highlighted (no pun intended!) then it doesn’t matter. My English teacher once wrote WOMEN across the whole page because in had accidentally wrote woman or vice versa. I’ve always concentrated on those words! Anyway I believe that even well meant marking policies can have unintended consequences and be misused by senior management to bully staff ( there I’ve come out and said it).

  3. I am a DH in my very small school. I would very much like to implement this learning policy including the no-grades for every piece of work. My HT is completely in favour of grading every piece of work. Can you please point me in the direction of the research that has been done on this. I have seen some over the last few months but cannot lay my eyes on them at present.

    I really appreciate your help.

  4. Here at Dimensions Curriculum we were asked by a number of schools if we could devise simple next steps whole school marking systems that would reduce teacher workload but still provide high quality feedback. We came up with (website links removed). They both ensure pupils are engaged in the marking process and look forward to getting their books back! Ofsted have even suggested that the Best Buds system is used across other curriculum areas.

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