Reflections on Whole-School Marking

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How would you improve marking? And most of all, how can you make any kind of monitoring, a valid process without the methodology creating undue stress and workload on others?

I’m confident this blog offers two different strategies which we have both used over the past two weeks.

To improve standards, you need to improve what you do. We have conducted our first sample of marking and assessment across the school; or at least during the time I have been leading teaching and learning. This has evolved from 6 months of planning, discussion in CPD sessions and development with middle and senior leaders. Our evaluation cycle now determines the work we focus on each term; this also determines workflow and seeks to control workload. The purpose of this particular process shared here, is to capture in-school variations and improve the quality of feedback. That’s it. This is not for any other reason, other than to give our students a better deal, and to equip or teaching staff with sensible marking strategies.

We want our teachers to mark less; we look at students’ books much less across the school than I’ve ever been used to, and we have reduced our whole-school policy in the hope that in return, teachers can work smarter and have greater impact.

From this process, the information will be shared with departments and best practice shared across the school. This post captures our initial thoughts before a more detailed analysis can be shared with our staff and then here.

Week 1:

In week one, we asked senior teachers to visit departments they line manage, to take a look at books with students in the lessons. This took place after a long period of department-led quality control last term. It is important that (senior and middle) school leaders visit lessons to look at books and talk with students.

Why? Because I believe, every class and book observation has a context that must be understood, rather than a sample taken without any reciprocal feedback. If conversation does not happen, context is almost certainly lost. For example, XX student has been absent; XX student is working in a new book / here is his/her other folder.

I believe – and so should you hopefully – that every teacher and in every subject, marking will be tackled and is completed on the whole. Of course, there will be some small in-school variations; and evidence of acting on feedback will be critical. Our Yellow Box methodology is in place and is starting to show evidence of ‘acting on feedback’ in subjects across the school. It is a direct mechanism for filtering qualitative marking and reducing teacher workload, with direct, qualitative and precise assessment!

The template we have used in book observations looks like this;

Book Looks Work Scrutiny

On reflection, I will remove question 4. Why? Because if questions 1-3 are not evident in any marking sample, then question 4 is a complete waste of time and workload. Instead, we aim to replace this section – in line with our Learning Policy – to include ‘extended pieces of writing.’

In our school, our one page Learning Policy outlines the following expectations for whole school marking.

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

I believe the above is a serious attempt at addressing teacher workload and encouraging students to make progress. For example, we do not expect every teacher to mark every page. We expect our students to be working harder than the teachers. We expect students to evidence teacher feedback and take responsibility for this.

Week 2:

In week two we have completed a student sample. This small video gives you a snapshot of what the room looked like, prior to our teaching and learning team arriving.

Student Sample:

The template that we have used is below. It is a tweak of the above form to consider one student and all of their subject (books/folders) onto one document. n.b. this is an old image. Teacher should be replaced with ‘student’ and the bottom section of the form has been removed. This format cannot be applied in all subjects. For example, controlled assessments; practical subjects.

Book Looks Observations Work Scrutiny

Selection Process:

Pre-selected students, 15 in total, chosen from various abilities across key stage 3 formed part of the sample. This is a very small sample, but was a deliberate action to allow us with the opportunity to tackle the task with some rigour; to gain a sense of typicality and measure the impact of our new learning policy.

Today, I have spent most of the day in the room with various colleagues – senior teachers, consultants and our teaching and learning team. Although it is still very early to tell, I just wanted to share some of my initial findings:

  • Yellow box methodology is evident, but the effectiveness and the approach of its use has still to be developed; including no use in a small number of subjects.
  • It is still apparent, that teachers are not given students enough time to consolidate their learning. For example, opportunities to act on feedback. Despite, having only using the yellow box for 6 months at our school, there is still work to be done here to train staff and share best practice.
  • When comparing one student’s book across all the subjects that they study, this exercise provides a wonderful opportunity to gain a snapshot into a child’s life at school. Teachers attending the sample meeting commented on the valuable opportunity this presented for them, as expressed a serious desire for all teaching staff to be given the same opportunity.
  • The range of evidence, challenge and opportunities to learn, vary significantly from department to department. This is not to suggest departments are getting it wrong; more an example of what teaching takes place in every department, a different context must be applied. A common-sense approach when looking at books is essential. For example, we expect marking to be regular, but proportionate to curriculum time. If a student studies maths 5 or 6 times a week and only has one drama lesson once a week, the evidence trail of student work and the marking should be considered.

Lightbulb Moment:

  • The most poignant moment of this exercise was, that although this was the first time we had attempted this exercise as a school, (or at least during my time working here) this is a significant step forward in our process for shifting teaching and learning forward. What I have personally gained and taken away from this process, is that middle leaders must be involved in any whole-school sampling; and that all teachers should have the opportunity to share and compare marking as widely as possible.

shutterstock_280566998 Idea - lightbulb on white background with text under it. 3d render illustration.

Image: Shutterstock

  • To make this feasible [all teachers exposed to good practice), these opportunities will be provided in our weekly CPD sessions. Our staff will be given the time. For example, time off from lessons, with cover to enable them to visit other teachers in other departments to view students learning and to begin looking in students’ books in other subjects.
  • There is no point me, or our teaching and learning team, our senior teachers or other having all this information in our minds, if I do not allow our teachers to have the same opportunity.

During the remainder of the week, the sample will continue. We will also interview students using IRIS Connect to capture raw footage from student interviews. This will be shared in staff CPD sessions throughout 2016.

As usual, I will report here.


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11 thoughts on “Reflections on Whole-School Marking

  1. Yellow box method…
    What if this doesn’t work. You have made the mistake of assuming that the yellow box etc must be a good thing. Any teacher who doesn’t agree / or doesn’t use it must be at fault. But instead lets say…needs more training! How hard can it be to draw a yellow box around something that needs correcting? I don’t know your school bit I do know similar things in other schools. They don’t work and are a huge distraction to teaching and learning. You can see a further comment (which is not aimed at anyone in psryiculsr) elsewhere.

    1. Yellow box is just a mechanism for formative feedback. Of course, this doesn’t mean we want art, pe and drama teachers to be producing endless reams of paper with yellow boxes. It’s the process…. to offer written/verbal feedback and give students the opportunity to act on the feedback. We won;t beat our teachers with a stick; it’s common-sense across the school. Mark less; mark smarter.

  2. OK well you know my view.
    I work in a school with less common sense
    Personally I would like to take the common sense forward. Allow different depts to mark in a different way. Within a dept allow different teachers to mark in different ways. WHAT? I hear you say. There always been ways to deal with lazy maverick teachers. Most teachers are conscientious. Give them bit of freedom and you might be surprised by the results. By results I mean happier teachers, happier students etc.

    1. We did this at our school, and produced exemplars for each department. The most productive part of the whole process was enabling each subject to consider how they feel marking should take place in their subject area. It was extremely liberating to see middle leaders taking a lead on this and discussing possible changes within their department. The downside was not being able to see consistency (not sure if this should even be an issue) across the school. To help with consistency we introduced the yellow box strategy but we didn’t impose a particular marking methodology to each department. The exemplars were particularly helpful for non subject specialist when assessing Marking and feedback in another subject.

  3. PS Thete’s not counter again
    Sorry but i dony lije it.
    I do not believe the counter is representative.
    It probably won’t +1 when I refresh page
    But what about a new session
    Does it store IP addresses.
    Even then the same person may give a hit from elsewhere
    Are you working on the basis of every visitor is s teacher who has one classroom.
    Also are you assuming that every visitor is a convert who will take the ideas back and ‘preach’ them in their classroom
    I’ve told you before …
    I can’t seem to block your site from Google searches when I am doing professional research.
    Also I got to this debate via another forum.
    I’ll try and stay away, I don’t want to be complicit in the false stats your site is producing.
    All the best.

    1. Classroom is wrong terminology. I use it to fit in with the theme of my blog – my choosing – and yes, misleading. The counter refreshes based on each page viewed. Typically, most people come to my blog knowing what they are looking for. That said, my Google Analytics say people tend to make 3 or 4 more page visits each session, making my bounce rate a whopping 3%.

    2. Every IP address is catalogued. No idea how to block blogs from Google Plus. Don;t use it much. Doesn’t seem to be very popular. Would assume it’s based on who you follow and what they read? If I honestly knew how to block blogs (i.e. me), I’d tell you, because I also need to do it.

  4. I have used the yellow box idea and it has significantly reduced my marking time.Student feedback quickly and my follow up marking is signed post for easy marking. Very effective

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