Primary maths: how we almost eliminated marking

This primary school managed to cut marking in maths to a minimum, without sacrificing pupils' understanding

Jon Parsons

Deputy head Jon Parsons explains how his primary school cut maths marking and improved progress in the subject at the same time

At the end of the 2017-18 academic year, I began to rewrite our mathematics marking policy. 

The decision was based on several needs: to provide pupils with better quality feedback on their work, for pupils to be better engaged with improving their own work and to reduce the time spent on unnecessary marking.

As a school, we had spent the year engaging with John Hattie’s Visible Learning, and trying to decide what would have a significant impact on pupil learning.

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Some of the strategies with the potential to accelerate achievement included providing pupils with timely, quality feedback; facilitating classroom discussion; and developing pupils’ meta-cognitive, self-regulatory and reflective capabilities. 

Coupling this with the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics’ guidance on marking and guidance from the Education Endowment Foundation’s Marking Evidence Review, we overhauled the policy so that pupils would mark and have time to correct the bulk of their own work in lessons, and teachers would no longer be expected to provide written comments on pupil work.

maths marking

The guiding principles are:

  • Feedback is best delivered in a timely manner, when it is required. Wherever possible, this feedback should be given to pupils directly in the lesson.

  • In order for pupils to make the most meaning out of their work, they should be the ones taking ownership of the corrections that need to be made. This is done either with guidance from the teacher or with the help of a peer.

  • If a teacher feels that it would be helpful to leave a written comment, these are specific to the concepts being learned. Generic comments are avoided.  

  • All work is looked at by the teacher at the end of the day. Specific misconceptions are addressed in the next day’s planning.

Cutting down marking in maths

Our teachers now plan their lessons in phases, within which they can mark questions as a whole class, with follow-up time dedicated to addressing any errors.  

Teachers observe and question pupils fluidly, intervening when necessary, and will either give personalised feedback or group feedback, depending on the type and frequency of misconception. Peer discussion and feedback are heavily used to promote mathematical discussion and encourage pupils to collaborate on solutions.


A three-pronged approach has been taken to monitor the impact and effectiveness of the policy. Lesson observations focus on the quality of feedback (teacher-pupil, pupil-pupil and pupil-teacher) and the extent to which this helps to develop pupils’ mathematical understanding. 

This makes the lesson observation much more of a professional development exercise, rather than a judgemental one.

The focus of book scrutinies has been to explore what this commitment to delivering better feedback has had on pupils’ ability to self-regulate their learning and better develop their understanding of mathematical concepts. 

Conducting the book scrutiny as a discussion, alongside the teachers, has also been valuable in supporting their understanding and implementation of the policy.

Exploring impact

We have seen many improvements in the quality of mathematical understanding since implementing the policy.

Teachers report that pupils in the class spend more time discussing their misconceptions and working together to fix them, as well as taking greater ownership of their learning. 

Furthermore, these discussions have helped to develop opportunities for pupils to converse mathematically, as well as giving teachers an extra, vital assessment tool during the lesson.  

Additionally, it has given huge amounts of time back to teachers, which they are spending planning activities and strategies to address the errors identified in class, as well as questioning to push this understanding further still.

Jon Parsons is deputy headteacher at White Meadows Primary Academy in West Sussex

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