10 Oct 2014

More on marking

It appears marking has replaced progress in lessons as the latest pressure point for teachers. I first wrote about marking overload a year ago and it's as urgent and live now as it was then. Ofsted has produced clarification on expectations here.  It makes it clear that Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Nor does it expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders. Ofsted recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and inspectors will look at how these are used to promote learning.

There are three references to marking in the Ofsted Inspection Handbook. The first reference places marking in the context of what constitutes teaching; the second in terms of evaluating learning over time and the third is in the criteria for outstanding quality of teaching.

It might be helpful to consider the second two references to marking and think through implications for schools. Para 183 'Evaluating learning over time' says that direct observation of lessons needs to be supplemented by other evidence to enable inspectors to evaluate what teaching is like typically and the impact that teaching has had on pupils’ learning over time. So this additional information includes: the school’s own evaluations of the quality of teaching and its impact on learning; discussions with pupils about the work they have undertaken, what they have learned from it and their experience of teaching and learning over longer periods; discussion about teaching and learning with teachers, teaching assistants and other staff; the views of pupils, parents and staff. And also a scrutiny of pupils’ work, with particular attention to whether marking, assessment and testing are carried out in line with the school’s policy and whether they are used effectively to help teachers improve pupils’ learning. There is also a focus on the level of challenge provided, and whether pupils have to grapple appropriately with content, not necessarily ‘getting it right’ first time, which could be evidence that the work is too easy. And finally looking at pupils’ effort and success in completing their work and the progress they make over a period of time.

So there's a raft of evidence which is considered. Why then the focus on volumes of marking? It's much healthier to think of marking as feedback which supports progress over time. Evidence of progress over time is much more powerful than overmarking which goes nowhere. Sensible feedback and marking policies state clearly what the purpose and rationale for these are; they recognise that one size does not fit every subject or key stage and encourage colleagues to think creatively about gathering evidence of progress. There are plenty of people writing terrific blogs about their practice - one great example from Shaun Allison here. And Dylan Wiliam has talked about the two principles of marking: 'the only thing that matters is what students do with it' and 'feedback should be more work for the student than it is for the teacher'.

And finally, the third mention of marking in the handbook is in the outstanding section for the quality of teaching. It says 'consistently high quality marking and constructive feedback from teachers ensure that pupils make significant and sustained gains in their learning.' High quality, not truck-loads of ticks. Fewer things, done really well.

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