If teachers are to take back control of their workload, one single responsibility must be abolished once and for all.
The effect of marking on teachers
Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) surveyed 44,000 teachers and discovered that primary classroom teachers spend an average of 9.7 hours a week assessing and marking. Secondary teachers spend 9.4 hours a week marking or 8.7 hours in Academies.
Most worrying is the lack of evidence that written feedback has an impact.
But it does impact teacher workload. The department for educations workload challenge report released in February showed that teachers work an average of 54 hours per week. Marking was cited by 53% of responding teachers as the second biggest drain on time, between data collection (56%), and planning and preparation (38%).
The fair workload charter, which we challenge all schools to adopt, limits teacher working time to two additional hours per day. That means teachers should not take marking home if they have worked until 5.30pm. Some schools consider it a data protection issue and ban the taking home of books entirely!
How marking should look
Feedback for learners is critical. Work needs to be assessed against its original objective, an error or improvement point identified and challenged, and preferably, changes devised and made.
Unfortunately, over time, ambiguous school expectations have resulted in an onerous ‘belt and braces’ approach to marking everything all of the time, just in case. Even Ofsted have been clear in their message that this is not required. The methods we currently use need to be totally revolutionised now.
“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… [Ofsted] will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.” (Ofsted handbook)
At school level, a culture shift is needed and at teacher level it’s time to ensure everyone has the skills and headteacher’s support to streamline their own personal practice.
Start with a no marking policy and work up
Consider a school with no written marking. Could it work? What would be lacking? From this blank slate, create a strategy of formatively assessing to nurture learning, with written marking used as infrequently as possible.
In a class of 33 children, just the main subjects in the day result in a 99 or 132 book workload, every evening. It’s not physically possible and results in stress. Here are some other ways of giving learners feedback or scores without embarking on the marking.
1. Peer assessment – learners mark a friend’s work tightly to the learning objective. We love post-it notes on which to write ‘two stars and a wish’: that’s two good points of feedback and one point of improvements. Allow time for corrections.
2. ‘Chilli challenges’. Learners work from 3 columns of questions on the board which increase in difficulty. The name comes from chilli heat ratings: hot, inferno, ghost etc. Learners choose which level to start on, then move themselves up if it’s too easy. They can self-mark from sheets throughout. This gives you freedom to work with a group or walk round live marking
3. Try ‘live marking’ for 1 or 2 lessons every day. This is a process whereby you travel round the room checking work and make the live improvement suggestions orally. I believe this is miles better than written book marking because it’s in real time and an improvement can be proposed on the spot. Focus on the learning objective or that learner’s personal target. You might cover a third of the room. You can jot that you’ve feedback if it helps you track coverage.
“While inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback is used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.” (Ofsted handbook)
4. Choose to ‘deep mark’ only a fraction of the class each day. This requires thought because every session counts and you may need to formatively assess each learner every lesson to craft your next day’s groupings. Remember to manage their expectations so they aren’t disappointed by a lack of daily ticks, stars, highlighter pen, smiley faces and stickers.
5. Use your adults better by training them thoroughly. Invest time upskilling your classroom supporters to ‘live mark’. Adults supporting even one specific child can feedback to others too. You need their feedback to inform your next steps though – the jotin the learner’s exercise book or a note on your plan or post-its at the end of the session.
6. Self-marking exercises – an oldie but a goodie. This requires preparation so create answer sheets. To make this worthwhile – stop learners to get feedback mid-activity and retarget your attention accordingly.
7. Don’t mark homework. (If possible, don’t even set homework!) There are some very good alternatives to homework which satisfy parent demand whilst not resulting in more marking. Try ‘big talk’ as a way learners can engage with outside knowledge sources before a written assignment, try online maths games, try science and humanities research, try parent-led activities, try whole-class self-marking if you do really need to send home sheets.
8. Align your expectations of marking with the headteacher. This is a dual responsibility. The only way to mitigate any ambiguity is for the head to establish a totally clear expectation of marking frequency and timescales as policy and roll it out explicitly at the start of the school year.
Marking is a teacher retention issue. It’s time to give it the boot.
About the author
Katie Newell BA(Hons) PGCE is an ex-primary school teacher, Head of Maths, Head of Year five and languages specialist. Katie qualified in Psychology at Liverpool then specialised in Primary Languages for her PGCE at Reading. Before teaching, Katie was a financial commentator and is now the Content Manager for eteach.com and fejobs.com. Katie feels passionately that teachers are the unsung heroes of society; that opening minds to creative timetabling could revolutionise keeping women in teaching, and that a total change to pupil feedback is the key to solving the work life balance issue for the best job in the world.