How To Revolutionise Your Marking Workload

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Lynn How

Lynn is the Editor at Teacher Toolkit. With 20 years of primary teaching and SLT experience, she has been an Assistant Head, Lead Mentor for ITT and SENCO. She loves to write and also has her own SEMH and staff mental health blog: Lynn...
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With this approach, could we scrap marking completely?

Who are we marking for? Are we making an impact? I often wonder (whilst writing the nth comment that child G will not act upon) if in a parallel universe, where I did no marking, the class would still have the same end-of-year outcomes?

In this universe I would still have high expectations and have much more time to actually discuss learning with children. I would also be a much happier teacher! Just to clarify, Ofsted’s myth busting document states it “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.”

Reading between the lines, Ofsted are suggesting as long as we can get the results, you can do what you like, if your policy says that is what you do. So, let’s get rid!

Weekly progress meetings

I was lucky enough to see Dame Alison Peacock speak at a conference a few years ago and she had a system in her school whereby children had half termly progress meetings with their teacher, which had a positive impact on their progress. This inspired me and I believe we could take this further.

My idea of learning utopia would be to scrap marking and timetable every child to have a weekly 10 minute 1:1 progress meeting with their teacher. This would accelerate progress by:

1. Holding children accountable for their learning

Giving children ownership of the learning choices they make is important. They know that they will meet with their teacher at the same time every week to set and review a target and have a discussion about their learning over the past week. If I knew that I had a weekly meeting about my progress with my line manager every week, then I would certainly ensure that I had made some effort towards targets in order to gain positive feedback.

2. Embedding a coaching model

In other settings and businesses, coaching and mentoring is part of the culture. It has been tried and tested and it is still in place because it works. In a world of digital literacy, more human interaction is needed.

3. The children know you care

Children know when their teachers are genuinely interested in them. I try harder when someone is counting on me or if I know that they care and my achievement will make them proud. we all care deeply for our students but we don’t have the time to care effectively.

4. Incorporating plenty of praise

Children don’t get enough praise, especially those overlooked ‘invisible’ children who just get on with things. With a timetabled weekly meeting, this won’t happen. They will get the same share of you as everyone else. Meetings should be positive and children should look forward to them.

5. Additional time for additional needs

Children with additional needs could also have an extra meeting with an Learning Support Assistant to further keep them on track during the week, especially if behaviour is an issue. Behaviour systems in schools often address the behaviour but not the underlying causes. 1:1 meetings would hopefully go towards breaking down barriers children with these issues, often put up between themselves and the teacher. There would be much improved student-teacher relationships.

6. Keeping parents onside

Parents would notice that although marking had decreased, teacher-student relationships would improve and in turn, motivation to learn and aspire increases.

Is it a feasible reality?

Of course this solution not as simple as it sounds. You would need to arrange timetables to release staff for these meetings. Cover could be found for assembly/quiet reading time/early morning work for example. It is not a cheap option as 1 hour of cover would be needed a day for a class of 30. However, I believe that pupil progress would increase and with no or minimal marking, staff stress levels and workload concerns would decrease.

As a result of these improvements, school attainment would show an upward trajectory. Children would also benefit by increasing their skills in interacting with adults in a professional manner. I appreciate that this ideal is complete pie in the sky but research is increasingly advocating feedback only policies as the way forward. I would happily conduct a PhD research project to gain more evidence for my theory in the future!

More advice on revolutionising marking workload

Where can we look for help and advice on how to reduce marking workload – or indeed abolish marking altogether.

  1. Huntington Research School offers advice for teachers to “tame the marking monster” based on the Education Endowment Foundation (EFF)’s Putting Evidence To Work: A School’s Guide To Implementation.
  2. This article from The Telegraph describes how one school has challenged traditional marking in order to build the confidence of its students. Stating that, ‘The feedback from students was the marking did not help them improve, while teachers felt the hours they spent marking was not having any impact.’
  3. Another school that has successfully shunned marking one method is as follows:
    “KS1 & KS2 pupils self-check their Maths – Teaching self-checking involves teaching pupils to think deeply about the work they have just learned. Otherwise, they might just scan through their work, reading but not really thinking.”
  4. This video from the BBC is about A primary school who abolished marking.
  5. And of course, there are lots of blog posts right here on Teacher Toolkit for how you can revolutionise your practice.

The end of marking

As a profession, we need to rally together on this. Staff can constructively question their marking policies and we can start to make real changes. Present current research on best marking practice to senior leadership team/governors and other non-believers. Once convinced, schools should communicate change effectively backed up by research, with parents and stakeholders, standing their ground when challenged.

In this way, arduous and unrealistic marking will be a thing of the past. In this era of a workload crisis, something has to give. That something has to be the least useful and most time-consuming element of the job.

Let this be the year that we stand together to wipe out any marking practices which are not beneficial to children. Instead, promoting quality feedback and pupil mentoring as a best practice model. Together we are more than the sum of our parts.

3 thoughts on “How To Revolutionise Your Marking Workload

  1. I teach secondary English not Maths but how is “1 hour of cover needed a day for a class of 30” if you propose 10 mins per student every week?

    1. Hello – 60 minutes per day divided by 10 minute slots is 6 students per day. 6 students per day x 5 days = 30 students. Would be quite a challenge to stick to time though!

  2. Lynn, I am a Computer Science teacher and teach pastime – 3 days a week, 12 hours of classroom teaching with 6 different classes. Although I think this is a great idea, I’m confused as to how it would work?

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