The answer to our teaching prayers?

As suggested by so many of the previous posts, marking and the inevitable workload attached, is a hot topic in every staffroom around the country. With OFSTED and government changing the goalposts as to what is deemed as acceptable when it comes to assessing progress and attainment, schools are beginning to consider alternate approaches to the big questions associated with marking and progress. How much marking is enough marking? How do we track progress? How do we feed this back to students and parents? How do we stop our staff falling over the precipice of marking hell?

In response to this we have decided to look into renouncing the ardour of endless written marking and ‘Close the Gap’ or ‘How to Improve’ tasks in favour of implementing a purely verbal marking system. In our heads this was the chance to deliver outstanding teaching AND regain control of the mythical work-life balance.

Our quest began with data. We needed to analyse and confirm the correlation between workload, written feedback and impact on progress from both a staff and student viewpoint. Survey Monkey is excellent for this and we were gobsmacked at the number of responses, 221 from students and 48 from staff in four days; clearly we were right about it being a topic of interest.

The research confirmed that the types of feedback the students valued as being the most useful were talking through with the teacher (41%) or being given a grade (45%), whilst ‘close the gap’ type tasks were less acknowledged as being useful to their progress (13%). Even though widely used by staff, these tasks were perceived by students as a short term fix rather than a long term solution, with many students feeling they only used this feedback in the following lesson or couldn’t ask questions to help them understand.

The staff survey highlighted the amount of time staff spend giving written feedback with 50% of those surveyed spending over five hours a week on this task, whilst with verbal feedback and grade entry, staff spend less than one hour a week. Over 60% of staff found the amount of written feedback either difficult or impossible whilst 89% of staff found verbal feedback achievable. Therefore the perceived value given to feedback on progress and time spent achieving it don’t correlate and gave our research validity to progress into the next stage: implementation.

So how do we make this work? The plan is to mark work with a grade (1-9 or Progress grade towards end of year target grade) then give verbal feedback during the lesson. Students then write notes on the feedback given but also develop a dialogue on their feedback with teacher by asking questions to clarify, deepen understanding and develop confidence. When discussing this with our colleagues the main barriers seem to be concern with protocol or systems or being answerable to the powers that be. Questions like ‘How will this be tracked?’, ‘How are we going to have time in lessons to do it?’, ‘How are we going to remember the individual feedback for each student?’ not necessarily considering how this might impact on progress for students or who the marking is actually for.

The plan is to trial with marking year 10 mock exams before getting together a working group from across departments to develop and further test before rolling out in September. Wish us luck!

Hannah Kennard

Swavesey Village College


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