Does your school’s teaching and learning policy do more harm than good?
If we can unpick feedback policies a little more, our teachers can smile and our school assessment methods will become more research-informed and refined…
Part of my work involves taking a school’s teaching and learning policy, critiquing and refining it to a point where it adds coherence, offers a clear quality assurance process, including opportunities to aid teacher workload and student progress. Some of the research I have been reading on collective teacher efficacy – what makes teachers thrive to produce the desired result – suggests that trust, common conceptions, instruction, agreed goals and support from school leaders are vital ingredients.
What do school policies currently say…
Last week, I discussed how I could support your school’s feedback policy into the next decade.
I received multiple replies from headteachers who shared their teaching and learning policy with me. Some of these included documents which had not been updated for over a decade, plus others that were going through the ratification process with governors (who wanted a final quality check).
As a result of helping schools, I hope by sharing past and present work policies, it will help everyone generate new ideas.
One point worth adding is that everyone is entitled to do it differently, and there is no one-way. It’s also worth mentioning, that a teaching and learning policy is not a statutory document, and it’s worth reflecting on ‘why publish something’ in the first place.
Without disclosing any individual schools, I have drafted below some of the ‘actual statements’ that are included in these policies, with corresponding comments to help everybody reflect on what they choose to publish and why.
1. In an independent primary school…
This policy has ‘feedback’ mentioned 24 times in a 9-page document. The word ‘marking’ features 3 times and it was last updated in June 2021. It says:
My advice to this school was to consider the differences between ‘light’ and ‘developmental’ and why any distinction is needed. The Department for Education and the Education Endowment Foundation each recommend that assessment must be manageable for the teacher, and meaningful and motivational for the student receiving it.
Having now established nine different types, this would be my latest piece of advice…
2. In a disadvantaged secondary school…
The leadership team have worked very hard to become research-informed to help raise standards, support teacher workload and retention. It is one of the better teaching and learning policies I have seen. The 24-page document includes ‘how to guides’ for teachers and a bank of resources. Inside the initial policy, the intention is made clear:
This policy is a research-informed document, moving away from traditional approaches (e.g. marking, including by frequency) to more of a dynamic in-class approach. In this 24-page guidance document, the word ‘marking’ features three times, and in the context of students doing this for self and peer assessment.
3. In a challenging secondary (boys) school…
This short 5-page policy only references ‘marking’ once. “Feedback” is discussed on 9 occasions, with teachers provided with something easy to reference. The policy also signposts coaching, professional development, homework and literacy priorities. The feedback section says:
Feedback must be timely, but in bullet 2, there is a reference to marked work providing students with an opportunity to act on the feedback. I wonder why this is not considered when teachers provided students with verbal feedback. Is timely verbal feedback obvious or can I delay my feedback until the next lesson, and by doing so, add more value?
We all need time to process what has been said, and sometimes it can take longer than an ‘in the moment’ conversation. We also need regular reminders from time to time… The rest of this snippet from the policy is a good starting point and well-intended.
4. In a secondary school in Essex…
This short feedback policy references ‘marking’ just once, with ‘feedback’ listed 3 times.
The document sets out the policy principles/values, with a set of 10 principles defined on page 2. On the final page (3), a short paragraph to include how the policy will be monitored and evaluated is provided. The screenshot below includes 3 of the ten principles and their contents, with ‘Students will…’ on the left column and ‘Teachers will…’ on the right.
My advice to this school would be to refine feedback, to include feed up and feedforward. In the bottom right-hand box where teachers are asked to secure an ongoing dialogue, including making the steps explicit and secure.
Whilst written feedback may (or may not) be evident in deep dives and work scrutiny, how can the school support its teachers to gather this evidence through verbal feedback, verbal feed-up and verbal feed-froward?
5. In a challenging and exciting secondary school in Hertfordshire…
The school has recently overhauled all of its policies, which is excellent practice for all schools to be doing on a 2-3 year basis. It has a 16-page document, including lots of examples and explicit instructions should teachers require it. The policy references ‘marking’ 3 times with ‘feedback’ listed on 19 occasions. Below, I have copied the screenshot from the assessment and feedback section only.
I worked with the school on many occasions throughout the last academic year. They have been on quite a journey regarding teaching and learning, as well as curriculum and timetable changes, not to mention COVID and everything else all schools are doing.
I do think this policy is quite advanced in comparison to many other things I see, but again I would ask that they consider these nine different references, and then start to think about what this looks like in different subjects, different year groups, more importantly, how it will be evaluated.
The real challenge is providing the nuance, without publishing an unwieldy document.
6. In a middle school in the North East of England…
In a seven-page document, this school is just about to send its policy forward to governors for ratification. As it is a live working document, I will not include any image here. I will add, that inside, it does reference ‘pink and green’ written marking.
I do think written feedback/feed up/feedforward (don’t call it marking) has a place in all school teachers are learning policies. I can understand why school leaders also choose to stipulate what coloured pens teachers should use. Whilst there is definitely a workload problem with this strategy, part of the assessment process does require students to learn how to respond to teacher feedback. Adding the colour helps students to easily identify, and if all teachers use this process, it becomes a useful method for everyone.
However, when schools insist on this method, especially by frequency, for example, once a week, then this method becomes a significant problem for teachers. Worse? When school leaders conduct work scrutiny and seek to quality assure compliance, consistency and students acting on this feedback, they will always be disappointed.
Put simply, teachers will not be able to sustain such an impossible dream…
7. In another secondary school lear you…
In another live working document, the school admits that the policy has not been updated for many years. My support and challenge on the document was detailed, and I’m reassured by the school deputy headteacher that they want to re-draft their policy to lead its teaching staff into the next decade.
Having worked with a group of teachers yesterday in Durham, I heard from one teacher who had just left another school that insisted they marked once a week and also responded to the student’s response of their original feedback! Some of you will be old enough to remember ‘triple marking’.
If we publish policies that stipulate the frequency of marking by term, including the type of highlighter pen to be used, particularly if it is two or three different colours, and then we insist that a teacher responds to the student’s response to the original feedback, then we are all responsible for pushing teachers out of the profession.
We all must work to eradicate this ideology from all school policy documents.
I am reassured in this latter school, that it now has the perfect opportunity to be one of the leading thinkers…
Outdated government policy?
Let’s end with the Teachers’ Standards (2011) which was recently updated in December 2021 to include the latest terminology. Sadly, my reflections are too late for consideration, but I have offered an olive branch to the Department for Education…
Standard 6, bullet point 4 says: “give pupils regular feedback, both orally and through accurate marking, and encourage pupils to respond to the feedback.”
What is ‘marking’ was removed and feed-up and feedforward added alongside feedback? What if non-verbal assessment was included and ‘regular’ was removed?
Finally, my good friends over at Ofsted say in their latest school inspection handbook that they do not specify “the frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback.” More importantly, they add:
Inspectors will not take a random sample of exercise books. Instead, they will scrutinise pupils’ books and other work across a faculty, department, subject, key stage or year group and aggregate insights to provide part of the evidence for an overall view of the quality of education. Inspectors will not evaluate individual workbooks or teachers. Inspectors will not use work scrutiny to evaluate teachers’ marking.
Stop saying ‘marking’!
I think one final point for me, if we all continue to use the word marking, then we only have ourselves to blame; we will continue to perpetuate the ideology that written assessment is more important than any other. Let’s BAN the word marking and instead, raise the profile of verbal feedback, feed up and feedforward, including written and non-verbal form.
Feedback (feed-up and feed-forward) empowers students to be actively involved in understanding how they are making progress. I’ve got 100s of teaching and learning policies, but these 7 will provide you with something to consider for the next decade…