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'When will teachers rediscover their love of teaching? When we end the culture that encourages marking into the early hours'

We must rethink the way we think about marking in every aspect of school, writes one leading educationist

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We must rethink the way we think about marking in every aspect of school, writes one leading educationist

Workload, workload, workload.... This is the chat I hear from countless staff rooms up and down the country, be it the domination of planning, or the pointlessness of over-marking. 

In March 2016 the Report form the Marking Policy Review Group concluded that, 'If your current approach is unmanageable or disproportionate, stop it and adopt an approach that considers exactly what the marking needs to achieve for the pupils.'

This comment is spot on. Why on earth are so many teachers marking for several hours night after night? Is it to improve the lot of the pupils in their care which is admirable, or is it a near-sighted school policy aimed at satisfying only the demands of the head, governors and parents?

Marking needs to be revisited: it should be a valuable teaching tool that moves learning forward. It must not become a straitjacket which stops teachers enjoying this wonderful job.

Let's review a few basic issues. Firstly it isn't of any value if the task presented isn't appropriate to the pupil's needs. This is where valuable time needs to be spent. It should establish a link between the teacher and the learner: inevitably then it should be done face to face in the classroom and as such there must be strict parameters for that to put through this process.

How have we got to a point where we literally mark everything a pupil does? If I were a pupil, would I read all that marking presented to me?

We therefore need to revisit why we mark. The independent workload review makes it perfectly clear why we do. Marking needs to be:

  • Meaningful
  • Manageable  
  • Motivating

As teachers we need therefore to look again at our practice. Does our marking achieve the three Ms? Is it meaningful and does it motivate and can we actually manage the workload? Will it end the reams of pointless work teachers produce night after night?

Once we start asking such questions, it isn't a leap to accepting the need to mark alongside pupils and to adopting more peer marking.

Even Ofsted have begun to recognise these problems, stating that they do not expect to see a written record of feedback provided to pupils by teachers.

And yet we are still consumed by the need to do it. So let's... 

  • ... mark more smartly. We know the best feedback is done in the classroom. Let's acknowledge this and get back to it.
  • ... plan better. Better planning equals more efficient marking.
  • ... use peer-marking better and more often: it certainly works.
  • ... never lose sight of the fact that it's for the benefit of pupils not the head or parents.
  • ... build time in the lesson for reviewing work.
  • ... vary the way we mark so both children and teachers are kept interested and motivated.
  • ... create a system in which pupils' books which show verbal feedback has taken place and educate our parents to show how essential this is.
  • ... balance the marking throughout the week so it doesn't dominate teachers' mind all the time and become a millstone around their neck.

Perhaps if schools adopt these approaches to marking, teachers will at last remember that teaching is the best job in the world. 

Colin Harris is a former principal who is now supporting teachers and school leaders

For more columns by Colin, visit his back-catalogue

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