Ofsted Myth-Busting: Marking


By Susan Cowell

I have been prompted to write this blog following Sean Harford’s Tweet on 18th July, 18 months into his Ofsted mythbusting campaign on teacher workload.

Given that 70% of all teachers surveyed knew that Ofsted don’t have guidance on preferred ways of marking, my questions are either:

1. ‘Why are so many school leaders still insisting on seeing heavy marking in books?


2. ‘Why are teachers so reluctant to mark less , even if it is not an expectation of the SLT through the schools’ marking policy ?

Who are teachers writing this feedback for?

(Think about this… I will come back to this question later).

Evidence gathered by leading figures such as John Hattie, Shirley Clarke, and the 2016 Independent Teacher Workload Review (to name just a few of the vast array of sources), indicates that the impact which written feedback has on pupil progress is no different (and in some cases less effective) than alternative feedback methods (e.g. oral feedback).

The summary of this report discusses how marking (written feedback) should be proportionate. Schools should take this recommendation for proportional marking and make it work for them. Every school is different.

The most important measure is whether school staff feel that all of their efforts are having an impact, otherwise they will become disengaged. We have seen this with the NUT’s recent statement:

45% of young teachers are considering leaving the profession, 85% of which cite workload as a factor!

We work with schools who have gradually been completely eliminating marking successfully.

“In the past teachers spent hours marking and assessing pupils work but now marking time has been halved and recording of progress more accurate than ever.”

-Helen Kelly, Headteacher at Norley CE Primary

Like Norley Primary, these schools have started with one class to see what impact it has on progress and learning. Interestingly, for most, the progress of their children has actually improved! The schools we are working with are now rolling this out as part of their assessment and marking policy for the whole school. It is this adherence to policy, which Ofsted are looking for: if your policy is having the desired outcome, why challenge the policy.

You may be reading this, thinking that this is not the ‘proportional’ approach that the Independent Teacher Workload Review had in mind. Maybe you’re right. Committing to no more marking is definitely not appropriate for every school and very much depends on your staff’s ability to employ a variety of alternative in-class assessment methods. Not only this, but staff need to know how to best use the data which they are gathering through their assessment methods to plan next steps. This is what Balance has enabled schools to do.

Balance uses a scale of 1–9, and then secure to show depth of understanding and progress over time within a curriculum objective.

By breaking down the sub-modules of the national curriculum into more manageable learning objectives, pupils can clearly understand what their learning outcome needs to be and can generate their own success criteria to achieve this. Self-generated success criteria is one way of ensuring that from the moment the pupils walk through the door, they are engaged in their learning. We can break this down into check-points:

1. Know where you are going (planning learning intentions: what is the key skill we need to learn)

2. Know how to get there (pupil generated success criteria)

3. Are we on the right track to get to our destination? (use of peer and self-assessment)

4. Are we there yet? (teacher assessment)

The Balance scale can be used with pupils in the classroom as a coaching mechanism to help them to check whether they are on the right track, and is then sanity checked by the teacher at the end of the lesson/intervention.

‘So how does this help us to reduce marking?’… I hear you say…

Every check point reached is a way of the teacher gathering data. The work that the pupils do will still be in their books, so if you are encouraging self and peer assessment and giving verbal feedback along the way, for whom are you writing feedback in the books? (Do you have your answer yet?)

If your answer is not the pupils, then why are you spending your time marking?

If you could use even some of the time you spend marking elsewhere, what would you use it for?

The children’s work will still be in the books for moderation and evidence, so if you could encourage a greater depth of learning through self-correction and peer-assessment, why duplicate feedback?

On average, schools using Balance to help plan next steps of learning in conjunction with reduced marking, have saved 8 hours per week! Imagine what your teachers could do with those 8 hours!

Everything we do in schools is action research.

We do not want this to be another educationalist whisper which dissipates over time and becomes twisted into a fad which school‘s feel obliged to follow blindly. We want to empower schools to mark proportionally to the needs of their pupils; to really think about ‘why’ marking is so important. Is it simply habitual? Is it still because teachers believe that Ofsted want to see evidence of marking? Or is it that leaders have not yet found the most effective pupil progress moderation and are therefore still encouraging marking as a means of reviewing quality of teaching and assessment?

If you are concerned about evidencing moderation, we have also developed a teaching and learning monitoring form which focuses on the effective use of alternative feedback techniques. This is available in Perspective as a resource through the Observations module, which then collates analysis and trends of teacher performance. Using Balance alongside this monitoring form ensures that progress is clear, as well as enabling leaders to ensure the quality of teaching reaches expectations but without relying on marking.

The challenge over the next few years will be to find ways of reducing teacher workload and re-instating trust in qualified teachers without fuelling the mass exodus of teaching talent…

We believe that from the results we have already seen in schools using Balance that we have a solid framework to help manage the coming changes.

Please comment, retweet or get in touch. We want to start the conversation!