Schools should consider outsourcing marking abroad, expert says

Tes Reporter

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Schools should consider sending pupils' work abroad to be marked to help free up teachers' time, an academic expert has suggested.

Rebecca Allen, director of Education Datalab, a research organisation specialising in schools, said outsourcing marking can cost as little as £2 an hour and can be "incredibly reliable”.

Alternatively, headteachers could investigate newly-emerging technology which might allow work to be checked by computer.

Dr Allen, who is also a reader in economics at University College London's Institute of Education, said all political parties have recognised there is an issue with teacher workload, and suggested that radical solutions need to be found to the problem.

Speaking at an Education Media Centre event, she said: "We have several problems here. We've got endless policy changes which just need to stop. For now we need to have a stable curriculum, a stable examination system.

"But we've got to look elsewhere. We can't just say things like 'paperwork'. I think we need to be realistic and think in radical ways about things like marking."

Teachers are now expected to do an "enormous amount" of marking, she said.

This is partly because it is popular with parents, and also due to pressures of Ofsted, Dr Allen suggested, with some headteachers interpreting marking as evidence that teachers have a deep knowledge of their class.

The academic said that in research projects she is currently involved with, marking is outsourced to other countries, including India for £3 an hour.

"It's incredibly reliable marking. So we've got to think in radically different ways about reducing workload, not just saying 'that's paperwork'."

Speaking after the event, Dr Allen said there is an understandable feeling that giving children very good feedback on their work and how they can improve is an effective way to improve learning.

"If you want to give really good feedback, it takes a lot of time," she said.

On Ofsted, she said that some schools feel under pressure to be ready for when the inspectors come calling, and believe one way they can do this is by being up to date on marking.

Asked if schools should consider sending work away to be marked, Dr Allen said: "They could outsource marking."

She went on to say that in the United States, there are people who are looking at using computers to mark texts, using the same types of technology used for online language translation apps and programmes.

In these cases, computers are able to translate after being fed lots of information which allows them to know, through pattern recognition, what the correct translation should look like.

Dr Allen said that outsourcing, or using technology to mark work, could mean concerns about teachers not being on top of what their class has learnt and what they need to teach next.

But, she added, teachers can still review marked work and what has happened in the classroom. Marking can also be supplemented with feedback for pupils to review.

Last autumn, the government promised to look at teacher workload, launching the Workload Challenge. Tens of thousands responded to the call to submit examples of unnecessary paperwork and administration they thought should be scrapped or cut back.

Ministers came back with a series of measures they insisted would help ease the problems, but teaching unions have argued these do not go far enough.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Marking of pupils' work is an integral part of the professional duties of a teacher.

"Whilst we would agree that technology can, in appropriate cases be used to process some assessments, I would have serious concerns about outsourcing routine marking. Teachers need to see pupils' work themselves so that they can fully understand the degree to which their pupils have understood what has been taught.

"Schools must be resourced adequately to provide them with the time to do this.”

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