Don't do what I did - A colour coding system made me see red

27th February 2009 at 00:00

I thought I had been so clever creating a colour-coding system for marking mock GCSE exam papers for five classes.

Red, green or amber based on achievement was a visual treat to begin with - greens straight down the register. Then the ambers started to creep in and finally the reds.

I'm not ashamed to admit it, I actually cried after marking one set of papers. My visual learning technique had emotionally destroyed me and I was beginning to see those red names as symbolic bloodshed, most likely a hint of what my head of department was going to do to me.

I went back to my PGCE files, sifting through my assignments and research essays trying to find out where I had gone wrong. Despite my emotionally fragile state, I still had 60 papers to go. Wearily, I went on.

Some were good, some were bad; some were amazing, some were downright laughable. I know it's a cliche, but you can mark paper after paper and sometimes wonder if you were actually there teaching the lesson or if somehow the words that went through your head came out in Swahili. Then there's that one pupil who totally gets it, nails the answer, and makes you realise that it really is all worth it.

This is why I teach, not to get 100 per cent pass rate, not to get 150 A*s, but if there's just one pupil per class that learns something from you, one pupil who you can help on to the next stage of their education, one pupil that surprises all the others, that's what makes all that red pen worthwhile. But I shall think twice about using that colour-coded marking system again.

Catherine Reynolds teaches RE at Saddleworth School in Oldham, Manchester. Email your NQT experiences to

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today