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Rights and conditions
02 November 2016
What's your problem with marking? Here's what our members said...

It takes too long

"The expectations for writing and therefore for keeping up with marking are unmanageable. To mark cross curricular writing and English writing on a regular basis takes at least two evenings for each set of books."

Many of you said it takes between 2 and 4 hours a night. "Basically, you never sleep or you are never up to date with marking."

It's too complex

"My school has a marking policy that involves three different coloured pens and ten symbols of different forms. You have to write a positive comment and set a target after each piece of work and every piece of work is required to be marked."

It's done too frequently

"The frequency with which teachers are expected to mark is unrealistic and, if followed, would in many cases result in every evening and weekend being taken marking."

"I have to mark 93 books every night."

It's not done to benefit pupils

"Have to write too much down when verbal feedback would have more impact."

"Feedback is now always 'developmental'. Pupils get the message that whatever they do, it's not good enough."

It impacts negatively on the curriculum that's taught

"Too much of a need to provide 'next steps' and scrutinise work means that hands on lessons or experiences are less frequent."

It's done for other people

"Marking books so parents can see they're being marked is a waste of time."

"Marking is often done for the people checking your books rather than the children - as much has to be marked at home at night."

Should marking be done at all?

Marking pupils' work is an important part of assessment. Among other things, it enables a teacher to:

  • evaluate whether a pupil has understood/learnt what has been taught
  • reflect on whether they need to provide additional/different support for a pupil
  • reflect on whether they need to address a topic differently for groups or classes
  • evaluate whether a pupil is making progress with skills, knowledge, understanding
  • provide feedback to a pupil to enable them to make progress
  • provide a score or grade for summative purposes.

Marking isn't the only way of doing these things, but it is a very visible mechanism, and everyone likes to see the teacher's red pen (or perhaps the pink, green or purple pen) as evidence that something has been happening.

However, as Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam said back in 1998 in 'Inside the Black Box', feedback is too often used for managerial purposes at the expense of learning functions; collection of marks is given greater priority than analysis of work to discern pupils' learning needs.

What does good practice look like?

Evidence on feedback is clear. The Education Endowment Fund Toolkit says it should:

  • be specific, accurate and clear
  • encourage further effort
  • be given sparingly so that it is meaningful
  • be about complex or challenging tasks or goals
  • come from other peers as well as adults.

Peer assessment and marking doesn't just happen. It is most effective when pupils are supported to understand the objectives they are trying to meet, and given frameworks for providing constructive feedback. See NFER's guidance on assessment for more information.

How can you make marking more manageable?

As part of the Workload Challenge, the DfE has put together a working group on marking, which will produce recommendations in Spring 2016. In the meantime, the DfE response to the Workload Challenge contained an appendix of useful suggestions.

For marking, it suggests:

  • more peer and self-assessment
  • sparing use of more detailed marking and written feedback appropriate to children's age and stage
  • shared/longer blocks of protected non-teaching time to plan lessons and mark work.

The Ofsted clarification document (also known as their 'myths and facts' document) says:

  • 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 and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils. 
  • Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, 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.
  • While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback are used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers
  • If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.

What do members say?

1. We need realistic expectations

  • Four hours marking a night is not realistic. Teachers and senior leaders need conversations about how much time they should expect to spend marking each week.
  • Marking every piece of work is not realistic. Agreements are needed about which pieces of work should be marked, and which should not be marked.
  • It is not realistic to expect every subject and every age group to be marked in the same way. Subject and phase leaders should consider what will have the most impact on pupils' learning.

2. We need to think about how best to give feedback to pupils

  • Pupils respond to feedback better if there is less, but better feedback.
  • Feedback is effective when it is immediate, when pupils can respond and ask questions, and when it is given at key points in children's learning – when it will directly affect their next piece of work.
  • We need to be able to say 'well done' and identify pupils' strengths without always having to tell them how to do better.

3. We need to find different ways of assessing pupils' learning

  • Formative assessment (assessment for learning) is a vital part of teaching and should not be seen as an 'add on'. It takes time, and senior leaders will need to think about how to free up time for teachers to assess collaboratively and to improve their skills.
  • Teachers need opportunities to develop pupils' self- and peer-assessment skills.

4. We need to think about how to evidence effective feedback

  • Senior leaders need to quality assure teachers' assessment, to support those who need it, and to be confident that assessment is happening across the school. But this doesn't mean checking that books have been marked and verbal feedback is written down. Nor does it mean pupils must respond in writing to written feedback.
  • Class teachers and pupils should be aware of their strengths and areas of development. Senior leaders could ask for them.
  • Clear evidence of pupil progress in their work, for example through drafting stages, should be evidence of effective assessment and feedback.

How to cut your workload by reducing your marking load

  • Don't mark everything. Can you agree a clear plan for what should be marked, and importantly what should not be marked? Which aspects of marking will have the most impact on pupils' learning?
  • Don't spend three hours a night marking. Can you agree how much time you should spend marking and then work out how to use that time (e.g if your senior leadership team agree that two hours marking a week is reasonable, and it takes an hour to mark a set of books, which two sets will you mark, and how will you assess other aspects of work?).
  • Marking isn't the only way of assessing pupils' learning. Can you agree a toolkit of different ways of assessing? Which ones are most effective at raising pupils' attainment, improving pupil outcomes or deepening pupils' learning?

Questions to discuss with colleagues/senior leadership

  • What is the impact of the current level of marking on teachers' workload and wellbeing?
  • How should we plan the assessment, marking and feedback we will undertake so that marking is useful for pupils and teachers? 
  • How does/will our marking help us to celebrate the achievements of pupils?
  • Does our marking/assessment policy reflect the values and ethos of the school? 
  • How can we improve the quality of marking, and particularly the quality of feedback, without increasing the overall workload?
  • How will we explain to parents when and how we mark, so that they understand why their child's work doesn't have teacher comments, ticks or stamps on every page.
  • How and when we will develop children's self- and peer-assessment skills?
  • When and how (and how often) will we review children's self- and peer-assessment so that we can reflect on their skills and their work in order to improve our teaching?
  • How and when can we deepen our understanding of formative assessment (assessment for learning), and in particular on what kinds of feedback are most useful for pupils' learning?
  • How and when can we work collaboratively on assessment?
  • If we are required to set and mark tests, what work shall we not mark in order to make time for test marking?
  • If you can stop marking one set of books each week (which could give you 90 minutes), what will you do with that time? 

What's the evidence?

EPPi systematic review of self- and peer-assessment in secondary schools (2008).