Shaw Primary Academy in Thurrock has implemented a new marking system that allows teachers to check every book quickly and efficiently.
Headteacher Dawn Copping outlines the straightforward changes she introduced to eliminate the need for teachers to mark books at home.
I was inspired to try something different in September 2013 because of some interesting observations made in my role as a headteacher and in my previous role as an assessment leader in another school.
I had discovered over the years that when you compare excellent teachers, who could be described as ‘terrible markers’ in terms of adhering to school marking policies, with those who spend hours of their time writing lengthy comments, suggestions and questions in books, you don't necessarily see any difference in outcomes for pupils.
I noted too that teachers often describe marking as their biggest workload challenge, so much so that they are often forced to ‘ignore’ some pupil books because marking them all is simply impossible. This often results in hard working teachers feeling guilty and under pressure to achieve the unachievable.
With all this in mind, and tiring of enforcing a system of marking that I did not believe in, I decided that enough was enough and set about creating a policy that eliminated the need for distance marking.
Signs and symbols
The new system involves signs and symbols allowing teachers to quickly and effectively mark pupils work during the school day. Written feedback is now only given by teachers if they have worked with that child in the lesson and they do so there and then.
At the end of each day each teacher compiles a summary sheet (a single side of A4) highlighting specific actions they will take in future lessons (such as working directly with a child, changing their group, offering some advice, providing more challenging work etc.). If a pupil features in the summary sheet there is a specific symbol placed in their book. Our pupils have got used to this and know to ask the teacher what they need to do differently.
Our marking system ultimately ensures that feedback to children is instant and has impact, every piece of work is valued and formative assessment is reliable and informs future planning. Pupils and teachers have played a huge part in the ongoing development of the policy and their views and ideas were listened to and incorporated during our trial year.
My teachers have unanimously told me that their workload is significantly reduced and have pointed out the added advantage of system that has improved their ongoing assessment of children's current standards and what they need to do next. They use what we call our 'DM sheet' as an aide memoir that ensures they give purposeful feedback, give praise and plan challenge or support on an individual basis to all learners in their class. The system is so efficient that teachers are able to check every book for every pupil every day.
Improved work-life balance
It would be foolish to say our system is perfect and, as with all things, there is always room for improvement. We will continue to monitor and evaluate it, just like every other policy and practice we undertake.
What I can say with absolute certainty however, is that the teachers in my school have a considerably improved work life balance. They have more time to plan engaging and exciting lessons and although they still get tired because they work incredibly hard, they know that the hours they do devote to their professional life are valuable and have impact on the children they work with.
One of the greatest joys of developing and implementing this practice happened during the last few weeks of July this year. I had the pleasure of seeing my NQT skip into school ready for her early start, excited about getting her class ready, labelling her books, setting up her book corner and embarking on all the delights that make teaching the best job in the whole world!
I was able to look at her bustling about in the early days of her career, knowing that that she will not become resentful about pointless workload, will not be bitter about not being able to join her non-teaching friends on a mid-week night out and best of all, will not be considering leaving the profession in the first few years after graduation.
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