Marking up: How to make the most of your marking and give children constructive feedback

These top tips for NQTs will help you tread a steady path through what can be a marking policy minefield
Functional skills: How teacher assessment will work this year

Marking policies – every school has one, it can vary from school to school, and every teacher is expected to internalise and apply them. However, there a few “marking” pillars NQTs can familiarise themselves with which will give them a solid foundation.


Try to develop legible, clear handwriting that, if at all possible, emulates the handwriting being taught throughout the school.


Your policy will no doubt have some symbols for things such as new paragraphs, spellings and punctuation in literacy, and small ticks in maths and dots for incorrect calculations. 

It may also suggest a cut-off point for the number of corrections you make in a piece of work, so that pupils do not become discouraged by their work being heavily corrected.

Try to spread this allowance evenly over a piece. If only the first paragraph or first few calculations are corrected, it can give the impression that you haven't read it all.

Comment focus 

A good marking maxim is to highlight two positive features about the work and a moving on comment, which encourages further progress.

It's useful if the positive comments in some way reflect how the child has achieved the set objective. For example, if it was to use commas in a list, at least one of your comments should reflect that objective: “You have begun to use commas in a list and...”

Moving on comments 

In maths, it could be another calculation. In literacy, it could range from encouraging children to write a sentence with two adjectives to redrafting the opening two sentences of their story to include a more powerful verb or advanced punctuation.

Remember to allow time within the next lesson for that group to respond to your comment. It's equally important that you acknowledge whatever that response was in your next marking session.

If it isn't clear how often you should make a moving on comment, ask for guidelines – using them on every piece of work can leave you feeling overwhelmed. And if you're writing as many as 50 words in each book and you have 35 books in one subject, that's 1,750 words. If you're marking literacy and maths each day, that would quickly add up to 3,500 words per day – and you haven't even started on a foundation subject. 

Each day, focus on a different group in literacy and maths to ensure every child receives a moving on comment in these subjects at least once a week, and perhaps every few weeks in a foundation subject. 

Planning comments

Before you start your marking, think of four or five comments for each group, rather than 35 different ones. 

It's the positive things you say which matter most to a child, rather than the myriad and time-consuming different ways you can think of saying it. And it helps you avoid that dreaded moment when you have to resort to Tippex.

Marking timetable 

You may have already been warned that you should mark your literacy and maths every day, but core subjects will mount up quickly.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, teaching days will be so full that you'll forget the focus of a task you tackled on Monday if you leave it until Wednesday to address.

Try not to neglect other subjects such as RE or art and design. These are often the first place Ofsted looks to gauge whether or not a teacher is keeping up-to-date with their marking. If it helps, develop a workable marking timetable and stick to it.

Avoid emotive expressions

Try not to include emotive vocabulary such as “disappointment” in your comments. If you are at a bit of a loss as to know what to say I would suggest: “You have tried hard with...” or “Perhaps we can talk more together next lesson about...”

Add praise 

Finally, do not get weary of that lovely praise ink stamper or sticker you have in your arsenal. Children love it.

Although tedious at times, marking is a valuable tool for gauging and moving a child’s learning forward. And, perhaps more importantly, it also communicates to children that you care about them and what they are doing.

Suzanne Webster is a retired teacher and School Improvement and Advisory Service (SIAS) consultant