Marking ‘by Frequency’ Needs To Stop!

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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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What ‘good reason’ do schools ask teachers to mark books on a frequent basis?

‘Marking by frequency’ in teaching and learning policies are not published in the interests of teacher workload; they are designed to manufacture consistent methods across subjects and years groups that have consistently distinguishable differences.

6,915 teachers said …

My heart sank earlier this week when I saw new data from TeacherTapp (n= 6,915) asking teachers:

  1. Does your school’s feedback/marking policy specify how often books should be marked by a teacher?
  2. How would you describe your school’s approach to marking and making written comments on pupils’ work?

47 per cent – that’s 3,250 teachers(!) – said ‘Yes’ to marking by frequency. What the survey doesn’t ask, is what that frequency is. Whether it’s once a week, once a fortnight, twice a half term or whatever it may be.

I thought this dialogue was done and dusted over 10 years ago?

Feedback should be manageable for the teacher, meaningful for the pupil and motivational for them to take action. We also know that it must be timely. Plus, don’t get me started on verbal, written, and non-verbal feedback; feed up or feed-forward!

No school I know has yet considered these 9 variable approaches to assessment and/or these 16 influences which determine the success of feedback. However, I am now working with one or two schools that do want to push the classroom assessment dialogue into the 2030s.

We still have work to do …

When did school leaders start to believe that assessment drives curriculum decisions, rather than when curriculum informed when an assessment should take place? If we don’t value one another’s professionalism, what hope is there when teachers are criticised by politicians or parents?

If a school wishes to imply any frequency as a recommendation, I would prefer a language change. For example ‘proportionate to curriculum time available’ is a much more balanced phrase, providing nuance, supporting teacher judgement.

How do all teachers provide written feedback twice a week, for example, when some secondary school teachers might see their pupils 10 times in a fortnight, compared to somebody else who may just see them twice? How do these policies adapt if teaching early years or year 6 pupils in a primary school?

2, 753 teachers said …

To make matters worse, in response to question two, 2,753 teachers said that they were expected to collect pupils’ books and mark them, then provide written comments. I guess the deeper question/problem is, how often they are expected to do this?

Well, let’s work it out in the hope that some of the school leaders who do this, might see the following graphic.

Let’s consider primary and secondary scenarios and one simple fact, that all teachers have 30 pupils:

  • Primary teacher: 30 pupils X mark once a week (assuming 5 minutes each) = 150 minutes / 1hr 20 mins
  • Primary teacher: 30 pupils X mark once a week (5 minutes / Core subjects) = 450 minutes / 7hr 30 mins
  • Now, consider a primary teacher doing the above every fortnight, or across all subjects
  • Secondary teacher: 150 pupils (5 classes) X mark once a week (5 minutes / 5 classes) = 750 minutes / 12hr 30 mins, or 2hrs 30 minutes per working day! Divide this by fortnight and once a term …

marking by Frequency

I could come up with all sorts of scenarios here: ‘deep marking’ once a term, time needed to use coloured pens to respond, etc. I don’t have any problem with the schools wanting to be consistent in their approach, or anything against written feedback or using coloured highlighter pens to help pupils self regulate their learning.

I think the biggest crime with all of this, is creating something which is non-statutory, when in fact all it does is drive teachers absolutely bonkers with little or no evidence that written feedback (exclusively) raises standards.

Despite what the evidence says, ‘marking by frequency’ is one of the biggest reasons why we face a retention crisis across the profession, with numbers of teacher mental health on the rise …

If you want my advice? Avoid these schools and go work somewhere else …

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