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Update from Emma Thom, Deputy Headteacher, Plantsbrook Secondary School

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Reducing teacher workload

Close up of someone filling in a formPlantsbrook School is committed to tackling teacher workload. We recognise the importance of staff welfare to ensure that our students get the best possible learning experiences. Today I'm writing this update on my previous blog because the three reports from the review groups have now been published.

I was fortunate to be invited to sit on the Marking Policy Review Group. At the start of the process, I had firm ideas on what I believed was best practice in terms of marking and feedback. As a school, we had adapted our marking policy based on findings from research.

Reducing burdens

Having read numerous blogs on marking strategies, I tried the concept of DIRT marking (Direct Improvement and Reflection Time). Mindful of the need to reduce burdens, we promoted the concept of tick sheets with success criteria written as questions that teachers could use to identify strengths and areas for development.

I believed that this was exemplary practice and came to the first group meeting armed with strategies to share with the group. Initially, as a group, we engaged in conversations about the purpose and impact of marking. It was at this point I started to question the effectiveness of the strategies that I had shared with our staff. Indeed, I realised that some of the strategies that I had promoted may have actually been adding to their workload.

I listened, with great interest, to discussions about the impact of marking. The fact that there is very limited research to support certain marking strategies made me question whether I have the balance right between the time I spend marking and the time I spend on planning.

Who am I marking for?

I have always believed in the power of instant, verbal feedback. However, I was never brave enough to leave pages void of teacher feedback in my students’ books. This has made me question who I am actually marking for. As a Deputy Headteacher I have always prided myself in leading by example. I would be mortified if another member of staff picked up one of my books and they were unmarked.

Sitting on the Marking Policy Review Group has really made me question my current practice and given me the confidence to be radical in the way in which I mark my books. I have piloted strategies shared by group members and halved the amount of time that I spend marking. I have moved away from writing endless comments and adopted a strategy whereby I check books and make greater use of codes to inform my teaching.

Self and peer checking

I still dedicate time at the start of lessons for DIRT marking but now it is fit for purpose and immediate. I am able to keep on top of my students’ books and there is no room for hiding in my lessons. I circulate with a green pen, give instant verbal feedback and have trained students in how to self and peer check with confidence.

Anyone looking through my books may criticise the lack of teacher comments but I am confident that if you ask my students if my feedback allows them to make progress, they will say yes. My data backs this up too. In a recent end of topic test, many of my students had gone up by one grade.

This prompted me to enter into discussions with our Leadership Team about the direction that we wanted to take in terms of marking and feedback. I shared findings from the research discussed at the review group and initiated debates. As a short term response, we have amended our whole school monitoring and evaluation process.

Rather than relying on book trawls, we interview students and discuss the verbal feedback that they receive. I approached the School Council and asked for their feedback on marking. It came as no surprise that they favour instant feedback. Indeed, many of the students said that they value personalised verbal feedback over lengthy written comments in their books.

Working party

With this in mind, we plan on consulting Subject Leaders to identify smart marking strategies that are fit for purpose for individual subjects. We also plan on launching a staff welfare working party. Having consulted staff and students, we will revise our marking policy to meet the needs of our school.

We have always prided ourselves on being, as OFSTED described us, a ‘happy’ school. We want our staff to retain the same level of passion for teaching as they did on entering the profession.

I have made a conscious effort to address my own work life balance and to ensure that I do the things that are important to me whether that is going for an after school run or out with friends. Making sure that I get enough rest and sleep has made me more efficient in my day to day role and I am a happier teacher for it.

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  1. Comment by ms posted on

    Is OFSTED brave enough to describe any marking policy as excessive? That would be the only way to motivate school leaders to reduce the demands they make of teachers.

    These examples/recommendations will amount to nothing unless OFSTED tackles workload directly.

  2. Comment by Heck posted on

    I would like to see examples of the coded marking so that an approach such as this might reach more of us!

  3. Comment by Lisa posted on

    I would also be interested in seeing examples of coded marking.