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Why you can't blame Ofsted for excessive marking

If you are currently sat in front of an enormous pile of marking, despite it being the middle of what is supposed to be a week off, Alex Quigley says you should direct your understandable outrage in one particular direction.

If your first thought was Ofsted, the director of learning and research at Huntington School in York says you are only partly right.

Writing in the 31 October issue of TES, he explains that Ofsted has sought to better capture “progress over time” by flicking through books to check on feedback.

“As a result of this shift, feedback has suddenly taken on a newfound importance, particularly in schools where an Ofsted visit is viewed as the sword of Damocles hanging over the heads of teachers,” he writes.

However, he points out that Ofsted has issued a clarification, emphasising to schools that it does not expect “unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders”.

Therefore, some of the blame for excessive marking demands has to fall on school senior leadership teams for misunderstanding the guidance, he says.

“Fearful schools often misinterpret what Ofsted is looking for,” he writes. “Anxious school leaders seeking to ensure ‘consistency’ of written feedback – with all the complexity that such a euphemistic term implies – drive teachers into the mire of workload overload.

“I have heard tales of teachers being made to photocopy evidence of weekly feedback so that senior leaders can create a heaving folder of evidence for Ofsted. There have been stories of teachers being forced to undertake weekly marking, regardless of the stage of learning or the usefulness of feedback, in order to meet the supposed Ofsted requirement.”

Increased workload is not the only detrimental impact of this misinterpretation, Quigley argues: teaching suffers, too.

“With all the focus on written marking, there is a danger that oral feedback becomes relegated. Most teachers agree that an immediate oral response can be the most useful method of feedback, whereas the time-lag on written feedback can too often render it redundant,” he writes.

So what’s the answer? Quigley says Ofsted needs to work harder to communicate the true meaning of its policy, but he argues that school leaders have to take responsibility for being receptive to this message and ending the ludicrous marking demands on teachers.

He concludes: “We need to get the message out there that feedback for accountability – feedback that is not for the benefit of students – is damaging for us all.”

Read the full article in the 31 October edition of TES on your tablet or phone or by downloading the TES Reader app for Android or iOS. Or pick it up at all good newsagents.

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