Marking Marketplace: The Life Of A Deputy Headteacher

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How can we improve the process for teachers and observers when looking at students’ books?

This week, in departments and then paired up for collaborative CPD, we reviewed work sampling as a school as part of our on-going drive to improve the quality of feedback and how we assess progress when looking at students’ books.


Since September 2014, lesson gradings have been removed, yet it is reported (ASCL) that 50% of schools are still grading lessons or teachers. For those schools who no-longer grade, there has been much discussion that work-sampling or ‘looking at students’ exercise books’ has replaced the fear or frenzy of grading, or determining the quality of teaching. There has also been a call for evidence to validate how reliable work-sampling can be to judge quality.

I would support the need for evidence in this area, but for too long myself and probably you reading this too, have either conducted or have been on the receiving end and part of work-sampling, without context: we (the observers) have been ‘fishing without the bait‘.

Marking Marketplace CPD

Sometimes, we can’t measure what we need, so we invent a proxy; something easier to measure. (Seth Godin)

‘Fishing without the bait’ means observers looking at evidence without any context. In this case, classes, students and teachers are not pre-determined. They may be often left to ad-hoc procedures that lead to ad-hoc judgements and conclusions. For example, [an observer] arrives to your lesson; sits down quietly at the back where there is an empty seat and proceeds to flick through the book of student A and B who are sitting next to them. Then, an assumption is made of the outcomes.

Instead, [an observer] could select a group of students based on their prior data/starting points (e.g. key stage 2 results) and use this information to assess progress over time. This could be conducted with:

  • a) the teacher to have a sensible conversation.
  • b) have an interview with a group of students.
  • c) arrive to the lesson with prior data and a targeted group of students, then look at those pieces of work.

In all instances, it would be recommended to select a high, middle and low attaining students; and students who are pupil premium and SEND/G&T. In all instances, it would be important to stress, that when looking in students’ books, that this is just one source of evidence, not all, and that every book/student has a story. This is why it is so important to involve the classroom teacher in the process so that they can share information, observers may be unaware of; e.g. absence.

Training Resources for Schools:

Before the training, I would recommend that every teacher receives a printed database of students’ prior data across the school. This is important so that you can conduct this CPD exercise effectively.

This post is offered as a resource to you – for schools and teachers – to help build their own CPD session to lead with departments (in pairs) to encourage support and a more reliable process for teachers to self-assess their own students’ exercise books in their own classes, as well as being equipped to visit another teacher/class and use a valid methodology for assessing progress.


The aims of the CPD session were:

  1. To understand how to look at student books WITH context.
  2. To moderate High / Middle / Low attaining students in your class.
  3. To understand how we should sample other books in lessons.
  4. To moderate another classroom set of books from another department.
  5. Develop your ‘over time’ methodology CPD and improve teacher moderation.

What do books tell us?

When looking in students’ exercise books, what can we decipher? Firstly, it is important to remember that books are just one source of ‘over time’ evidence. This must be stressed. Then, consider books show:

  • If students are making ‘expected progress’
  • Teacher expectations
  • Classroom routines
  • Access to the curriculum
  • The school’s Marking Code
  • Attitudes to learning (i.e. if students take pride in their work)
  • The quality of feedback
  • If effort is recognised … (i.e. if students are proud of their achievement)
  • If students are ‘acting on feedback …’

Here are some of the slides form the presentation.

Click to enlarge

Developing All Staff:

Every teacher should have the opportunity to look in each others’ books and schools should provide training for all staff. The findings should then be shared to help teachers teach better and more work needs to be done to eradicate schools using book-looks as a process for judging individual teachers. More research is needed to find out what system works best; what methodology leads to reliable assessments about the quality of teaching and until we either, training your own staff to do this collectively and reliable, will reduce in-school variation.

This resource shows you how you can address these issues.


Before you download the file, please click a tweet of thanks and do let me know how you get on: #MarkingMarketplace

Marking Marketplace CPD

Download the PDF here.

*This resource is copyright of Quintin Kynaston.


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