Marking and Feedback Observations

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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 quality assuring marking, feedback and assessment across a school?

In my last Twitter poll, I ask my followers this question;

Marking Twitter poll


In this post, I’d like to share how we are approaching marking, workload and quality assurance of feedback and assessment. Last month I asked, If you no longer grade individual lessons, how do you monitor the overall quality of teaching and learning in your school? 15 months ago, we removed lesson gradings for all teachers; we also stopped our teachers wasting time with any need for laborious lesson plans. We asked our teachers to mark smarter and asked that they refrained from marking every page in students’ books. Over the course of the year (2014/15), we left our teachers to conduct their appraisal observations and lead their own faculty learning walks and book looks. At leadership level we did not do anything else. We just let our teachers get on with it!


This week, we will begin our Marking Observations. Call it Book Looks; Work Scrutiny; Marking Trail. Whatever term you use to avoid being what it is, we are looking in student books across the school this week. This is not teacher-targeted. This is student-targeted. We want this to be a community effort, not something just determined by me, or led top-down by senior teachers. This is a collegiate responsibility to see how far we have moved forward.

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In my Marking and Work Scrutiny blog, I shared the monitoring, evaluation and review documentation we use to communicate with our staff, an academic calendar of events to drive school improvement. Templates were also shared and the demand from readers has been huge. Thank you for that.

Here is what we have shared with our staff …


As published in the 2015/16 MER cycle, the process of student book sampling and work scrutiny across the school will take place three times throughout the academic year. All SLT/HoFs involved in the process, and will complete an overview of findings, using this Self-Evaluation.



  • Objective: to monitor the impact of the ‘mark’ section of the learning policy as a reliable source of evidence.
  • Objective: to form an overview of quality of teaching over time, and to establish best-practice and areas for development by faculty.


Week 1:

Throughout week 1, middle and senior leaders will be completing book observations in lessons. Observations can be paired with line-managers and/or post-holders, or in isolation depending on department priorities. There is a pre-determined timetable for this to ensure coverage of subjects over both weeks. Here is an anonymised sample for one day.

Book Looks Observations Work Scrutiny

Anonymised sample

Book Observations: We will be using two templates. Typically, this process will be conducted over a two-week period to allow all lessons/classes in departments to be sampled. At times, the teaching and learning team will be used to gather best practice. As a matter of caution, I have offered the following guidelines to ensure reliability and validity, in order to remove the process from being ad-hoc.

Before the book look you should:

  1. HoFs/SLT should briefly meet with the teacher  to gather initial context; e.g. how best can this process improve your teaching; planning and marking?
  2. The book-look monitoring should aim to provide; ‘what went well and areas for improvement.’
  3. All book-looks should schedule a planned feedback session for each classroom teacher.
  4. Every student sample must include a high, middle and low attainer; stretch; SEN and pupil premium.

During the book look you should:

  1. All books must be available.
  2. When looking in specific student books, this should never be an ad-hoc exercise of who is present in the room.
  3. If books are not available, say so on the document. Please revisit the class at the next available opportunity and locate the absent student’s book.
  • Every student sample must include a range of student-profile: high, middle and low attainer; stretch; SEN and pupil premium.

After the book look you should:

  1. The book-look observation, should be viewed as a means for developing best practice. Feedback must happen; be meaningful and sophisticated.
  2. There is context behind every exercise book, student, group and teacher – make sure you know before providing feedback.


Here is the observation template that will be used in lessons.

Book Look template Scutiny

Week 2:

Sampling: A list of 6 or 7 students per year group will be generated. Typically, these students will be a sample of high, middle and low attainers, as well as pupil premium and SEN/G&T. The list of students will be published 48 hours in advance and books will be collected centrally. In November 2015, we will also train and support our new teaching and learning team in moderation of the book sample. The template for this exercise is a modification of the original. It is exactly the same, just structured in another way to allow one student’s books to be sampled on one document.

Book Looks Observations Work Scrutiny

Taking It Further:

iris Connect Observations

As part of our whole-school development, we aim to equip teachers with best practice. What we hope to also achieve, is to use IRIS Connect in order to interview students with their book sample. This footage will be shared with our teaching staff in January 2016 during our weekly CPD sessions. Here are some of the questions we will ask our students;

  1. Do you enjoy your lesson? Why?
  2. Is your book marked?
  3. Do you receive verbal and written feedback?
  4. Are you given opportunities to redraft classwork?
  5. In this subject, is it a safe to learn and it is ok to make mistakes?
  6. In this subject, do you understand the value (beyond exams) of what you are learning?
  7. Does your teacher link things to what you are learning, to things we have learnt before?
  8. Do you take pride in (this subject) your book? Why?
  9. Show me a piece of work you are proud of and explain why.
  10. Any other comments?

*some questions adapted from @MaryMyatt‘s blog here.

A diagnostic report will be published and shared with middle leaders at the end of the process.


  • Observations/Scrutiny/Trail = during a lesson and no-longer than 20 minutes
  • Sampling = books requested 48hrs in advance for sampling outside of lesson time. 72-hour turnaround.

I will report back ..


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8 thoughts on “Marking and Feedback Observations

  1. Some really good stuff here. Only aspect I’ve had poor experience of is “Observations/Scrutiny/Trail = during a lesson and no-longer than 20 minutes”. When an HT did lesson visits that lasted only 5 minutes, he also did not engage in any lesson plan or dialogue and could not reasonably get an informed picture of the lesson. This contrasted strongly with another school where SLT spend longer and engage if appropriate with teacher and pupils, gaining a very thorough view of the lesson.
    The first is damaging to teachers and disconcerting to pupils, the second supports growth and learning.

  2. I’m curious as to why no random selection of students… Also wondering how many if any ’48-hour’ marathons happen after the list is revealed…

    1. The random selection will happen by default. By predetermining what should happen by observers aims to gather a balance. Have considered not publishing the list to avoid staff marking by panic.

  3. I really agree with the objective of book looks that you have described Ross. Could you please clarify as to why there is a book look through observations as well as a sample? What exactly is to be accomplished through this approach? I do love the idea of using iris in capturing student feedback. Thanks.

    1. Reason is week 2, there are mock exams and taking books away from KS4/5 students in week one would be unfair. Therefor, work sample of KS4/5 is in lessons. Week 2 work sample are KS3 books being called.

  4. I have been teaching since 1977 and am unsure of what has improved. If the aim is to get rid of Teachers these things are brilliant and have positive value added and over achievement. After retiring for 2 weeks I went on an amazing Road Trip with Temporary Contracts to glamorous places like Urmston, Warrington, Moss Side, PRUs in Oldham Bury and Rochdale. Oh yes – glamour. I saw so many amazing young teachers leave the profession and it disgusts me
    We have to stop the destruction of Teaching believe me.
    Is the Teacher teaching effectively?
    Are the children enjoying lessons?
    Is the quality of learning high?
    Are the Children getting good results – positive value added?

    If the answer is Yes to the above the place more work on the teacher and give SLT more opportunities to bully so the Teacher leaves the Profession. The SLT must have a clipboard and a list to tick for lesson observations and believe in Learning Styles.

    Give me strength – Things have not improved as much as you may think. Honestly, they were great teachers in the 70’s and I was blessed to have been coached by them.

    End Of RANT

    PS I am nearly 66 so my views cannot be sensible


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