Educational Super-Fad: The Madness Of Triple Marking

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Do your senior managers still insist on triple marking?

Well, well, well. Who would have thought it? Both Ofsted and the Government have recently come out to say no one should be triple marking. Are they actually on our side?!

Addressing headteachers at the annual conference of the Association of Schools and College Lectures (ASCL) in March this year, Education Secretary Damian Hinds said that excessive lesson planning and “triple marking” should be abandoned.

Similarly, Ofsted chief Amanda Spielman also speaking at the ASCL said, that triple marking, along with 10 page lesson plans and Mocksteds, are “a distraction from the core purpose of education.”

But where did the madness of triple marking actually come from because no Government ever said that teachers had to do it? How did it ever trend?

Mixing ratio

Triple marking or “deep marking” describes the process whereby teachers mark a piece of work, then hand it back to students who re-draft their answers and return it to teachers to approve.

It also became known as Triple Impact Marking (TIM), dialogic marking and quality marking.

The idea was to reduce marking and make more of key assessments.

  1. Students check work and eliminate the mistakes = less time marking nonsense.
  2. Teacher marks!
  3. Students act on the quick wins be that corrections, challenge task or wallow in their greatness.

The triple of TIM came from it being three parts. The other bit came from 2 parts student to 1 part teacher.

The ingredients for wet concrete are:

  • 1 part cement
  • 2 parts sand
  • 3 parts gravel
  • 0.5 part water

TIM and wet cement when mixed badly are very similar.

All this is fine if you have 45 hours in a day and no life outside of school.

But even if you are time rich there is no evidence deep marking works. There is plenty of evidence showing how marking is a burden and detrimental to teachers’ working lives. There is no proof that it benefits pupils either.

TIM: the marking monster

TIM suddenly became a monster and as Daisy Christodoulou (2018) says,

It turned what should have been an immediate five-second classroom conversation into a process that took hours. It forced feedback into the straitjacket of a written dialogue, making it harder to use examples, images and quick oral questions.

The problem is TIM developed a life of its own and may have stemmed from some senior leaders interpretation of the 2015 School Inspection Handbook.

The Workload Review reported that TIM grew for a number of reasons including: “practice which misinterpreted and ultimately distorted the main messages of Assessment for Learning; Ofsted praising particular methods of marking in an inspection report so that other schools felt they should follow the same example, and false assumptions about what was required by Government.”

So there we have it. Someone somewhere decided that TIM acted as “a proxy for ‘good’ teaching” because it was there in your face as nice and lovely ‘evidence’. Before you know it, everyone is following your lead. Appeasing parents then became an issue as and marking expectations grew and grew.

We all know that the amount of feedback we give does not equate to the level of our professionalism and expertise but it certainly looks good to the outside world.

Meaningful, manageable and motivating

Ofsted have never said that TIM was something they wanted to see. In fact, they have gone to great pains in busting some myths by publishing and updating various misconceptions that do the rounds. Their advice is unambiguous:

“Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.”

In a 2015 clarification document, Ofsted said,

“Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books will often depend on the age and ability of the pupils.”

The document also said that the inspectorate does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders.

In fact, the big O has been keen to point out it recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and how these are used to promote learning.

The TIM time bomb

If Senior Managers in schools are insisting on TIM then this is draconian and wrong. It is also a sure-fire way of inducing sick-leave across the school.

Unions are 100% on our side. They advise members to refuse to comply with any feedback and assessment policy which generates excessive workload. Bottom line: don’t do it.

Effective managers don’t ask their staff to triple mark when they know workload pressures are at an all-time high.

The Workload Review said that, “Marking is a vital element of teaching, but when it is ineffective it can be demoralising and a waste of time for teachers and pupils alike.”

Any policy that promotes triple marking needs to be put on the bonfire along with the ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted banners. Please, no more marking.

What other Fads have you wasted your time on? Read 20 Years of Educational Fads to find out.

5 thoughts on “Educational Super-Fad: The Madness Of Triple Marking

  1. During One Ofsted 4 years ago my Ofsted Lead Inspector actually advised me that the dialogue in my pupil books between teachers and students needs to be more extensive in their marking. True dialogue, she added, contains a conversation and not just one comment. She then demanded a variety of books from every class to inspect. She showed me two books where students had replied to their teachers suggestions only once and said it was unfinished dialogue and that she would expect to see a more prolonged dialogue in all books to be most effective practice. i argued but it ended up with consequences of me adversely affecting the whole process!
    The last Ofsted inspection however, 2 years ago, was more positive and I never did, happily, take the first inspector’s advice as it made no sense to me.

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