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Assessment, Leadership

Solving the Marking Workload Problem

Having provided the necessary click bait in the title; I’m very tempted to write my shortest ever blog by giving the following solution “You must do less marking, as a teacher; demand less marking, as a school leader or parent”.  End of; problem solved.

The issue we have is not in the colour of the pens we choose to use but in the mindset we bring to marking.  Two thoughts: generally, we confuse busyness or working long hours with effectiveness and secondly we have massively over rated the impact of marking.  It simply won’t matter what Ofsted say in their myth buster document or school leaders write in some new policy if we don’t fundamentally change our thinking about what’s most important and must be focussed on.  At numerous conferences I’ve suggested that we are “over marking and under planning”; viewed from the front, the people listening often resemble a collection of nodding dogs.  What is also important is our individual and collective well-being and work/home balance.

I sense we are currently in the phase of looking for “smarter” ways to mark and some are certainly time savers.  Here’s a number from a slide I recently used when talking to Initial Teacher Trainees:

  • Read & Reteach
  • Spoof, self, peer, self, teacher
  • Marking codes
  • Zonal Marking (Yellow Box Marking)
  • Verbal “Just in Time” Feedback
  • Feedback using numbered success criteria

Two basic principles apply to much of the current thinking: pupils must respond by improving work and marking must create more work for pupils than the teacher.  However, the more fundamental question about marking that needs to be asked is not “how can we mark more effectively” but “why bother marking this at all”? 

Three simple thoughts: to find out what pupils already know so teaching is set at the right level of challenge (pre-assessment); to find out whether pupils are learning what is being taught (real time, responsive teaching) and to find out what pupils should know, because it has been taught, but don’t (remedial action required).  The middle one is currently much undervalued by senior and middle leaders as it is largely ephemeral in nature which doesn’t make for easy monitoring.

Absent from the list are the colour of the pen, Ofsted, the school/departmental policy, school leaders’ monitoring checks and parents; it takes a confident and sometimes brave leader to break the agreed orthodoxy.  Time to grab your latest Marking Policy full of the what and how of marking and slim it right down by looking at whether and why.

At the same time people look at ways of efficiently marking they may also want to discuss and think about why mark?  The road to a reasonable workload is paved with doing less work.  Many people reject this as they then have to decide what’s most important and what they will no longer individually or collectively do; it’s a hard call.  By not making a conscious decision the decision is made for you; your family, friendships and well-being all suffer.  The system then loses more teachers than it can ever hope to replace.  It’s time to decide what not to mark this weekend.



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