'Breathe it in: the sweet taste of victory – the culture of deep marking is dead. Now what else can we kill?'

Graded lesson observations and performance-related pay would be a good start, argues one teacher-writer

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This last week or so has been pretty remarkable for a couple of reasons.

The first is that Ofsted said something that only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. It basically made it clear that there is absolutely no concrete evidence for the impact of “extensive or detailed” marking on student learning.

And secondly, it announced that from now on inspectors shouldn’t report on marking policy at all.

So, no need for schools to introduce workload-inducing quadruple-marking policies or work-scrutiny calendars! No need for people to pretend that they can judge the progress of a child on six pages of an exercise book written in! No need for people to try to judge teachers based on the amount of green, purple or red pen smattered over the pages!

Ahhh, breathe it in: the sweet taste of victory.

'The cat is now out of the bag'

At the same time that all this happened, Michaela Community School released its book, and in a chapter entitled “Marking is futile”, Jo Facer pronounced that “marking not only harms teachers’ work-life balance, it also damages pupil progress. Marking is futile.”

The cat is out of the bag. The truth is out about marking.

Now it will be interesting to see how many school leaders decide to listen. And how many Ofsted inspectors will listen to Sean Harford’s instruction not to judge marking quality.

Could this be the beginning of a revolution: a complete adoption of evidence-based practice rather than the political whims of those who have never stepped inside a classroom? I certainly hope so.

With marking (or the fact it’s mainly a waste of time) nailed, I hope we can now collectively move on to other items on the pie-in-the-sky scale. First on the agenda for me would be abolishing graded lesson observations nationally. We know they are about as useful as a giant roulette wheel when it comes to judging teacher quality. Yet the clipboard warriors are still turning up to classrooms with criterias, ready to force leading questions on to unsuspecting pupils to satisfy some “line of enquiry”.

Helpfully, Bill Gates and the Gates Foundation have shown that one-off graded lesson observations, in whatever form, are not effective in judging teacher quality. That goes alongside a raft of evidence that the process of graded observation pushes a huge stress burden on many staff. So, let’s get rid.

Performance-related pay is another area where there seems to be more evidence against it than for it. A report by Lancaster University (2014) into the impact of PRP on the public sector concluded: “Where positive effects have been found, effect sizes are often small and may be short-lived – emphasising the value of longer-term follow-up evaluations.”

The study highlights a number of problems with it, including detrimental effects on “teamwork and collaboration” and an absence of “behavioural change” due to its implementation. It also concludes that PRP relies on management subjectivity in its judgement. I think this is something particularly pertinent to the education world, where senior leaders still have to rely on significant subjectivity and context in making judgements on PRP. So, let’s get rid of PRP. The evidence tells us that it isn’t healthy or effective.

The tide seems to be turning. A future based on truth may be possible sooner that we think.

Thomas Rogers is a teacher who runs rogershistory.com and tweets at @RogersHistory

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