Dear Parents

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do you believe your child’s teacher has lots of free time on their hands? 

Your teacher [Mr. McGill] wants the best for your daughter [Fatima], however, the current expectations and perceptions of what is the most effective way to provide feedback lacks research and is making the job of a teacher unsustainable. Here is one of the reasons why we have a crisis and it’s costing the taxpayer more.

Dear parents,

I understand why you want Mr. McGill to always mark Fatima’s work. Most parents would, and for years teachers have soldered on to try to achieve this. However, let’s just question the notion that ‘marking your daughter’s classwork is an effective method for progress’. To try to unpick the problem, even if it is once a fortnight – not work marked from every lesson – just one piece of work from a possible 50 lessons over two weeks, let’s calculate this expectation. 

Radical Thinking

We know Fatima would like some recognition of her hard work and that critique from Mr. McGill should help her to improve and stay motivated. Great. No teacher would argue with that. But we need do need to rethink marking and feedback if we want Fatima to receive the best teaching. Statistically, Mr. McGill has a 48% chance of leaving teaching to work in another career or to find a better work-life balance. So, let’s assume we want Fatima to keep working with one of her favourite teachers and Mr. McGill stays in the job he loves. To do this, we are going to just mark one piece of Fatima’s work.

Let’s consider something radical and assume it would take Mr. McGill just 5 minutes to do mark productively, and with meaning, to help Fatima progress. So, that’s just 5 minutes every fortnight. Now, there’s 38 weeks in an academic year right? Okay. So, that’s 38 weeks which is the equivalent of 19 school fortnights; and mark Fatima’s work for just 5 minutes. 19 x 5 = 95 minutes of marking for just Fatima. That’s achievable right?

‘Yes. So what’s the problem?’ I hear you ask.

Well, there’s another 29 kids in the class for Mr. McGill to work with.

‘Oh. Okay.’ you say. ‘That’s 95 minutes x 30 students.’ Yes, that’s now a total of 2,850 minutes for one class. Marking just once every fortnight for one child. We’ve got to make sure we keep every parent happy and do the best for every child. Yes, let’s sick with that.

So, that 2,850 minutes per class of 30 kids. That’s 47.5 hours of marking.

‘Wait. There’s only 10 working hours in the day?’

Marking Workload

You know teachers have ’14 weeks off on holiday’, every year. Yes, you’re right, they do. They can mark their students’ work in their holidays. But wait, by the time this teacher has marked these books over their Christmas and summer break, the lesson has been and gone.

Effective?

By the time Mr. McGill has marked Fatima’s work, she won’t care about the feedback, plus it’s probably far too late to make any notable difference in her work.

So, what can we do?

Well, for starters, we can do several things:

  1. We need to fund our state schools better so that headteachers can free up their teachers to mark during the school day.
  2. Yes. That’s not going to happen, so what’s the alternative?
  3. We need research to show that ‘teachers speaking explicit and specifically’ to their students makes more of an impact.
  4. It’s also immediate and less onerous on teachers. Students know what to improve there and then and teachers don’t have to mark books night and day.
  5. ‘But what about exams and examination boards?’ I hear you say. ‘Don’t they prescribe how assessments should be marked?’ Yes they do. And because we must ensure students achieve qualifications and are accurately assessed, we must work with examination bodies to determine more effective ways of assessing students’ work. Here is a more reliable and faster method.

The next time you step into the playground to speak with Mr. McGill, just think for a moment: How long has he been teaching? For every year they have, add 5% on top of the 20% attrition rate and do the maths. This is the probability of your child’s teacher staying in the classroom, and by the time you’ve worked out the maths, you teacher is still likely to be marking, or thinking about the next pile on their desk.

Until we change our perceptions of what is the most effective way to provide feedback, good teachers will leave the profession prematurely. Your child’s teacher has a 20% chance of leaving their job after just two years from qualification – this figure increases by 5% every year they are in the job. Let’s improve the retention crisis together, by shifting perceptions of teacher effectiveness. In the long term this will save the taxpayer money and keep good teachers in the classroom.

@TeacherToolkit

Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, a simple Twitter account which rapidly became the 'most followed teacher on Twitter in the UK'. He is an award winning teacher and an experienced school leader and as @TeacherToolkit, curated this website you are now reading as one of the 'most influential blogs on education in the UK'. In 2015, he was nominated for '500 Most Influential People in the Britain' by The Sunday Times and one of the most influential in the field of education. He is the only classroom teacher to feature. He is a former Teaching Award nominee for 'Teacher of the Year in a Secondary School in London' and has also written 3 books on teaching. Read more here.

8 thoughts on “Dear Parents

  • 10th February 2018 at 5:42 pm
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    I absolutely agree with this article but there are a few too many typos for me to be comfortable sharing it, probably because you are worried about the pile of marking on your desk or just plain exhausted at the end of term I also hear some parents saying that 47.5 hours of marking per class per academic year is OK because of course school finishes at 3pm and there’s all those “holidays” .

    Reply
    • 11th February 2018 at 9:12 am
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      Thanks – please let us know about the typos and we’ll get them fixed.

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    • 11th February 2018 at 2:14 pm
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      There are the six lesson plans to write every day and resources to make. Even if that can be kept to 30 mins per class that is 3 hours per day. On top of that you get pupils problems to sort out, cause for concern forms to fill in and even Social Service reports to make, these can take hours to fill in and require a lot of collaboration with other colleagues, to collect information and data. I was unfortunate in working in a school where I filled more of these in then I care to think about. Detentions to supervise, extra exam lessons to support. Meetings with parents after school or before school. Telephone calls to parents to make, both to praise or to deal with problems. After school activities to support. Departmental meetings, with expectations of producing curriculum defelopment plans and full staff meetings to attend. Every holiday we are given Curriculum development tasks to do, end of term exams to mark and the record progress for each student updated accordingly. As a secondary school teacher I teach a minimum 180 students a week, so at 10 mins per student that is 1800 mins (30 hours) of work in my holiday just marking test and recording progress. During the six weeks holiday, exam board changes are studied, curriculum changes made to suit, new resources made, new students files read, classroom resources set up for our new students. If you have a year 11 tutor group you have college applications to fill in, ROA to write and job references to complete during the Christmas to Easter period. So yes it’s a doddle of a job with long holidays.

      Reply
  • 12th February 2018 at 9:12 pm
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    No 3 – effectiveness of verbal feedback. Research has carried out on this subject. You can see the results on the Educational Endowment Fund website: ‘Teacher Toolkit’ ☺

    Reply
  • 15th February 2018 at 7:41 pm
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    Not sure anyone actually considered the physical implications of all this marking millarky! I am now going through physio as a result of injuring my hip lugging the books to my car, I have the most horrendous pains in the left side of my neck and head as a result of bending over the marking and last and not least, i am in agony with my right hand as a result of repetitive stress. In fact, the stress continues in to my right shoulder. I have 278 students throughout the week. Do the maths; that’s a lot of marking and a lot of hours that I simply do not have. This sucks and I am fed up of it! Do the plonkers who came up with the idea fancy having a go at the reality? Nope! I thought not!

    Reply
    • 15th February 2018 at 10:22 pm
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      Hi Chris, sorry to hear this. Maybe contact Education Support Partnership for advice?

      Reply
  • 18th February 2018 at 7:51 pm
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    Try being a primary teacher!! 150 books ti mark every single day. then factor in planning- we are not history or Geography specialist so we have to research the knowledge our pupils need- this also applies to Art, DT, RE,& Science. I would be interested in a graphic for this rather than the secondary version above. I’d make it myself, if only I had the time…

    Reply

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