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Marking: Postmortem or Diagnosis?

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Our staff survey in January 2016 showed us that workload was an issue at our school. Marking was one of the tasks our teachers were spending a large amount of time on, often over 20 hours a week - but was it having the desired impact?

We were concerned that this level of marking, and the time it was taking, was having a negative impact on the quality of teaching: excessive hours marking books meant that little time could be spent planning lessons that responded to children’s understanding.  Teachers would come to work tired and some were considering leaving the profession altogether.

We downloaded the Report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group: Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking when it was published. We held a staff meeting to give staff time to read and consider its suggestions – they were positive about its key messages of making marking manageable, meaningful and motivating. They also made it clear that they agreed that it was our responsibility as school leaders to ensure marking was manageable for staff, which we accepted.

We invited Dawn Copping, Chair of the Independent Marking Review Group, to talk to our local cluster of schools. This made us see that there could be another way of marking pupils’ work that would reduce teacher workload.

Alongside this, we invited Professor Dylan William to work with us on his research into formative assessment. We immediately saw teachers who attended these sessions changing their practice in the classroom for the better.

Female teacher helping pupil with school work

We realised that improving teachers’ formative assessment within lessons - so that they were immediately responding to children’s levels of understanding - would reduce the amount of written marking needed.

We began to see written marking, completed after the lesson, was similar to a postmortem – what we needed was accurate diagnosis whilst the patient was still alive!

Our next step as a school was to review our written feedback/marking procedures. This was much easier for shorter, task-based pieces of work with a clear learning objective. We based our procedures broadly on those used at Dawn’s school, adapting them to fit with our school pedagogy:

  • Lessons have a clear learning objective
  • All children’s work is assessed against this learning objective – using stamps to help us.
  • Children working with an adult do not have books ‘marked’ as they receive high quality oral feedback and teaching when they need it most - during the lesson.
  • If children have not achieved the learning objective, this is recorded on the weekly Teacher Assessment Record (TAR) and they receive immediate ‘post lesson teaching’ in the afternoon, to give them another opportunity to understand the content.

Our Assistant Head now runs CPD for each year group, with a focus on developing their use of formative assessment. This is broadly based on a lesson study approach. The program is tightly structured over four weeks, with year groups working together to plan a sequence of lessons which include high quality formative assessment.

Display of classroom artwork

Whilst this is very successful, we also wanted an approach which we felt would fully support extended writing in school. We looked at how we could use rubrics and success criteria to assess and mark longer writing tasks – looking at the work of Ron Berger.

This would reduce the amount of time teachers spend producing written comments on work whilst giving clear indication of next steps and celebrating achievements.

We have now been using these marking methods for a term and have found they have reduced the amount of time that teachers spend marking books while still giving effective feedback. In a recent school survey, our staff strongly agreed (73%) or agreed (27%) that the new marking guidelines had reduced their marking workload without compromising pupil progress.

‘Since we have introduced the new marking guidelines, I haven't had to take books home which has meant I have been able to spend more time planning my lessons.’

Other impacts of this approach to marking are:

  • Stronger formative assessment of learning within lessons with teachers planning opportunities to assess pupil’s understanding and then responding immediately.
  • ‘Post-teaching’ immediately fills any gaps so that fewer children are falling behind in their learning.
  • Teachers now have time to plan high quality lessons based on pupil’s achievements that day.
  • SLT focus on learning and progress when looking at books – not the amount of written feedback from teachers.
  • It has freed up teacher time to enable them to develop other parts of their practice that have a high impact on pupil progress.

We have made a positive start to reducing teacher workload and improving formative assessment within our classrooms. Both are having a positive impact on children’s learning and progress.

We are excited to be taking this further over the next year in our newly formed MAT – the Lighthouse School Partnership - and are happy to share any of our materials and expertise in this area with other schools.

You can read Janine Ashman's previous blog post on how her school restructured its approach to planning here.

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