What keeps me awake at night - I'm distressed over the need to assess

10th February 2012 at 00:00

Peer assessment, teacher assessment, self-assessment. If it exists, we'll assess it. Each child in my class has to mark their own writing, tick boxes and spot mistakes.

This sounds helpful; it often isn't. If children could correct their own work they wouldn't need teachers. When you watch them closely, the self-assessment activities often boil down to random box-ticking and pencil-chewing. Many children, when reading their own writing, still read what they thought they had written, not what's actually on the page.

But that doesn't matter, because when the children finish assessing, we start. Teachers must mark every piece of written work on the same day. Marking has to include positive comments, reference to targets and points for improvement. This may sound reasonable but it's ridiculously time-consuming. If I teach four lessons a day to 30 children, that's 120 books to mark every night. Even at the rate of two minutes per book, it's a minimum four hours of marking before you get on to planning.

Even if you know some children won't read your comments, you must mark on regardless. A friend of mine was given the soul-destroying task of spending her Christmas holidays retrospectively marking every single book in her Year 6 class right back to September because her ticks and comments were deemed insubstantial. Nobody would benefit from this task, but there was a chance Ofsted might visit so it had to be done.

Including planning, marking, levelling and evaluating, I'm now on a ratio of four hours' paperwork to one hour of actual teaching. I used to jot plans on the back of a beer mat; now I find myself annotating my shopping lists with a mark out of 10.

The actual teaching part of the job barely gets a mention in this target-setting, box-ticking culture. I can guarantee that not a single child in my class has moved forward academically due to me spending 20 minutes every day photocopying success criteria.

At least we're sharing the joy of assessment with the children. (Mark your own work. Improve your own work. While you're at it, update the behaviour policy.) In my experience, the only marking pupils pay attention to are ticks and marks out of 10.

If this obsession with self-evaluation is going to continue, it really shouldn't stop at school level. Perhaps Michael Gove and Sir Michael Wilshaw should lead the way with peer assessment - two things they are doing well and one thing they could improve on. We could all help them out with the third.

The writer is a primary teacher from Birmingham. To tell us what keeps you awake at night, email david.marley@tes.co.uk.

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