Why teachers need to break free of the ‘cult of marking’

29th April 2016 at 00:00
Time-consuming ‘triple-impact’ scheme is used widely despite limited evidence of its efficacy, EEF finds

Almost three-quarters of teachers use a time-consuming “deep-marking” technique, despite there being no official requirement to do so, new research reveals.

A review from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) finds a “striking disparity” between the huge amount of effort invested in marking books and the limited evidence showing which strategies have a positive effect on pupils’ progress – especially in the case of extensive written feedback.

The research has been published after a union adviser complained of a “cult of marking” on social media, with teachers boasting about the time they spent going through pupils’ books (see box, below right).

In too deep?

The report, shared exclusively with TES, shows that 71 per cent of teachers have used “triple-impact marking” – where teachers mark the work, children respond and teachers respond to the response. This is despite a lack of high-quality studies evaluating the impact of this strategy on student outcomes.

Further evaluation is needed to determine whether any benefits that result from triple-impact marking are “large enough to justify the time required”, the report concludes (see box, above right).

But some degree of “dialogic marking”, either verbal or written, had been shown to have some “promise”, the research finds.

Some schools remain unconvinced that Ofsted will not look for triple-impact marking – also known as deep marking – even though the inspectorate clarified in a “myth-busting” document more than a year ago that it does not require “any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback”.

Dr Victoria Elliott, lead author of the report, told TES that it was hard for teachers to ignore their employer’s marking policy, but that it was important for schools to “focus on doing the best for the student rather than on accountability”.

James Bowen, a former primary school leader who is now director of NAHT Edge, the headteachers’ union’s branch for middle leaders, believes that it will take time for heads “to fully trust the inspectors on the ground”, after previous reports of schools being celebrated for deep marking.

He added: “Schools can now challenge and refer them back to the myth-busting document and say: ‘You can’t say that any more.’ But it takes a little bit of time for that confidence to come through the system [and] to have complete trust that the inspector on the ground will stick to that line.”

Hammering the point home

Anne Heavey, education policy adviser at the ATL teaching union, believes that it could take a few years to reverse the trend, as teachers have “to make sure their backs are covered” in light of performance-related pay and accountability pressures.

“There are some teachers who really feel it is part of being a good teacher,” she said. “But it should be like a hammer – you should only use it for some jobs.”

The EEF report recommends that “schools should mark less in terms of the number of pieces of work marked, but mark better”.

But David Didau, a member of the government’s independent workload review group into marking, believes that there is not enough evidence to make any valid suggestions for how to mark work.

Mr Didau, an education consultant and blogger, said: “I think it is a mistake to say ‘Maybe you should do this’ because people will read that as the best thing to do. It’s like a medieval doctor insisting on blood leeching, because we just don’t know enough and we could be doing harm.”

Last month, the government accepted the workload review group’s report, which said that “false assumptions” about deep marking needed to be challenged – for example, that it provides a more thorough means of giving feedback, demonstrates a stronger professional ethic and improves pupil outcomes.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “It is clear that teachers should not be expected to use deep or triple marking. And teachers should be trusted to focus on what is best for their pupils and circumstances.”


‘It’s a myth that you have to be a slave to your marking’

Anne Heavey, education policy adviser at the ATL teaching union, has highlighted an alarming “cult of marking” on social media, where teachers boast about the quantity of marking they do.

At a fringe meeting at her union’s recent annual conference, Ms Heavey said that staff were posting photos of their marking piles on Facebook with captions such as “60 books, four hours, nailed it”.

Newer teachers in particular often tried to score “brownie points” and there was a “sense of one-upmanship”, she told TES. “A lot of marking doesn’t necessarily make you a good teacher and we need to make sure we’re not perpetuating that myth that you have to be a slave to your marking.

“Covering a child’s work in all these pens, highlighters and underlining is an act of creative vandalism that could knock the confidence of these children.”

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