Dear Parents

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Teacher Desk Marking


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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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 soldiered 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 and unpick this problem, let’s ask teachers to mark once a fortnight – not work 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 any critique from Mr. McGill should help her to improve and stay motivated. Great – no teacher would argue with that – but we do need to rethink marking and feedback if we want Fatima to receive the best possible teaching. Statistically, after 20 years of teaching, Mr. McGill has a 48% chance of leaving teaching before he tries find a better work-life balance in another career. 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 need to support Mr. McGill and readjust our expectations of marking. To do this, we just want him to 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 make progress, we are now just wanting Mr. McGill to spend just 5 minutes, every fortnight, marking to provide meaningful feedback and impact.

Parent: ‘There’s 38 weeks in an academic year right?’

Teacher: ‘Yes, the equivalent of 19 school fortnights – that’s 38 weeks. Mr. McGill will mark Fatima’s work for just 5 minutes. That’s 19 x 5 = 95 minutes of marking, per year; just for Fatima. That’s achievable right?’

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

Teacher: ‘Well, there’s another 29 kids in the class for Mr. McGill to support.’

Parent: ‘Ah. Okay. We want every child and parent to receive the same standard of education. That’s 95 minutes x 30 students.’

Teacher: ‘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.’

Parent: ‘So, that 2,850 minutes per class of 30 kids. That’s a whopping 47.5 hours of non-stop marking!’

Teacher: ‘Wait! There’s only 10 working hours in the day?’

Parent: ‘You do know teachers have ’14 weeks off on holiday’, every year?

Teacher: ‘Yes, you’re right, they do. They can mark their students’ work in their holidays. However, by the time Mr. McGill has marked these books over the Christmas and summer break, the lesson has been and gone. It’ll make no difference and Fatima will have probably forgotten about the lesson …’

Marking Workload

By the time Mr. McGill has marked Fatima’s work, she won’t care about the feedback; it’s probably too late to make any notable difference to 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 head teachers can free up their teachers to mark during the school day.
  2. 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 need to know what to improve there and then so that 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 they often ‘trump’ the best school marking policies and plans. 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, rather than adding to the marking burden. 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 been in the classroom, add 5% on top of the standard 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 – or worse, thinking about leaving your child’s school.

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. Let’s shift our perceptions of teacher effectiveness. In the long term this will save the taxpayer money and keep our good teachers in the classroom.

15 thoughts on “Dear Parents

  1. 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” .

    1. 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.

  2. 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’ ☺

  3. 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!

  4. 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…

  5. And can I just say that teachers are paid statutory holiday pay – whatever the current allowance is. The rest of their ‘holiday’ time is effectively unpaid. That of course doesn’t mean they don’t work during that time and in fact they wouldn’t be able to keep ahead of the workload if they didn’t.

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