Maths - A cross to bear

Tick-box marking isn't the best use of teachers' time

I hate marking. It is by far the least enjoyable part of my job. Give me a lesson on compound measures to prepare, a classroom to tidy, or even an angry parent to phone, but please don't sit me down at a desk with a red pen and a pile of books.

I feel I am completely wasting my time ticking, crossing and correcting work when in the end the students will just glance at the final mark, see how it compares to the person sitting next to them, and move on. Three hours of my life that could have been spent preparing better lessons.

Of course, I am talking here about one particular type of homework - the type that can be marked by ticks, crosses and corrections and is perfectly conducive to peer-to-peer marking, or getting students to mark it themselves. But by going down this route, it is undoubtedly more difficult to pick up on any difficulties. You also have the problem of students (and parents, in particular) wanting feedback solely from the teacher.

For many, the solution to this problem lies with MyMaths (, an online service that sets students homework, immediately marks it for them, and allows them to attempt the homework again. This saves teachers hours and gives conscientious students a fantastic opportunity to learn independently. But aside from the issues of access to the internet, we are back to the glaring problem of the teacher not having a full grasp on students' understanding. Moreover, MyMaths simply does not lend itself to open-ended, unstructured questions.

When students need to consolidate understanding of a given topic and ensure they have the basic tools in place to be able to solve equations, add fractions and find the median of a set of numbers, I do not think there is anything wrong with them doing it on a computer and having it automatically marked.

I feel my time is better served preparing and marking other homeworks - areas that test whether students can apply these basic skills and hence have a greater impact on their learning. For these homeworks I turn towards unstructured past exam paper questions, UKMT Maths Challenge questions, or those with a twist such as Convinced from Kenny's Pouch. Better still, I feel there is great merit in setting students the task of preparing for the next topic, writing a set of revision notes, using mark schemes to mark exam answers or coming up with mark schemes of their own. And, of course, I save money on red pens.

Craig Barton is maths adviser to TES, maths advanced skills teacher and creator of (TES name: mrbartonmaths). Twitter: @mrbartonmaths


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