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Can we make marking meaningful and manageable?

Kim White and I are the Professional Mentors at Notley High School. One of the main concerns that our trainee and newly qualified teachers have is one of the main concerns all teachers have, workload and the ever-increasing nature of it.

According to a recent survey by The Guardian, 43% of teachers are planning to quit the profession in the near future due to unrealistic, over bearing workloads.

This is why it is becoming more important to find ways to make marking meaningful but manageable and share them where we can.

Whilst undertaking our research on how to bridge the gap between KS3 & KS4 we trialled a new way to assess students' understanding of classwork and simplified GCSE assessment criteria. We called this the “Red Pen Task”, and although it did help our KS3 students work on their written answers, with us seeing more detail, explanation and examples, it also helped with our marking load.

Red pen tasks are a simplified GCSE style question about the key aspect of a topic. For example, a Year 9 task on marriage could be:

Give three characteristics of a good marriage. (3) – linking to the new A style exam question

Marriage is for everyone. Evaluate this statement, considering arguments for and against. Include religious and non-religious views in your answer. (6) – Linking to the new D style exam question.

We would then mark these with a focus on literacy, content and skill; giving feedback with a positive comment, constructive criticism and an appropriate feed forward task.

As these questions were a direct reflection of classwork understanding and exam technique skills it became clear that we could shift our marking focus to these questions not all the classwork itself. This has meant that exercise book marking especially for those of us who have 10 classes has been reduced drastically but the quality of work and understanding has not.

As a department (and then fed into our faculty once we had tested the waters) we have been testing this new marking policy since September and we have had some very positive impacts and feedback from students, parents and colleagues:

  • Students like the focused marking

  • We have seen a rise in assessment grades as answers are more detailed and contain more examples

  • Marking load of exercise books has been reduced

  • Quality and quantity of unmarked classwork has not decreased

  • We have received no negative feedback from parents or senior leadership

Although this policy may not work for every school, department or teacher we hope that it can help some to make marking meaningful BUT manageable as it us for us.

Natalie Short

Notley High School