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Marking policy – excessive rules and demands are nonsense

Good feedback does not require three highlighters, two stamps, and a sheet of stickers…

The Undercover Teacher
by The Undercover Teacher
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I am sitting at my laptop reflecting on this week’s Ofsted inspection. It was a two-day visit, with four subject deep dives amongst a host of other things. It was my eighth Ofsted experience in 25 years.

The inspection team was ruthless; thorough but fair. Teaching across the school was good or better. In fact, it’s mostly good or better all the time.

Staff are very supportive and have time to plan and create quality lessons.

Prove it!

However, I’ve not experienced this in lots of schools I’ve recently worked in. Workload is often sky-high and the pressure to ‘prove’ progress and teacher impact is immense.

This is not the case in my current school and Ofsted was very happy with the quality of work and progression. Like many schools now, the head does not insist on ‘proving’ progress in books.

Our marking and feedback can be summed up in one sentence (almost!) – ‘Teachers are trusted to give feedback to pupils how they see fit.’

Of course, this isn’t our marking and feedback policy, but it might as well be! I’ve never been trusted so much in my whole career.

If I want to reward children with stickers or house points, I can. If I decide to mark work in depth twice a week, I can, but I don’t have to.

I can choose to write ‘Well done’ if I wish, without repercussions from SLT. If I want to use a green highlighter to indicate something good, I can – but (you guessed it) I don’t have to.

The encouragement of freedom and autonomy means I can make my own professional judgements on how best to mark and feed back to pupils.

Ofsted reports

So I still find it astonishing that teachers in some schools – including many I’ve worked in – insist on marking and feedback policies that are almost unsustainable to enforce without affecting work-life balance.

In several schools, I have been told to write two stars and a wish (two positive comments and something to improve) in every single book. If you didn’t write them, you would be put on a support plan for not following the ‘non-negotiables’.

I remember challenging a head once, and said I had lost count of the amount of feedback I had given the whole class and individual pupils.

Why did I need to write two stars and a wish twice a week? “Because it’s all about the books and proving to Ofsted that teachers are giving feedback,” I was told.

These policies are, frankly, absurd. How about having to highlight the learning objective in green or orange to let the pupils know if the teacher thought they had ‘got it’? (Yes, one school insisted on this); or having to use three different coloured pens to give written feedback in books? No thanks.

Imagine being told you must ‘deep mark’ at least once a week regardless of whether the work needs it or not? Pointless. Or having to write ‘VF’ in books every day to prove when you speak to children, with a written commentary of what was said? A waste of time.

At no point during this most recent visit did an inspector ask me why I hadn’t used a verbal feedback stamper at least three times a week. Can you imagine the report? ‘The standard of work was great but there was no evidence that teachers talk to the children.’ Ridiculous.

No one quizzed me about not creating lengthy learning objective slips with accompanying success criteria to stick in books, either. The children just write a simple title.

The hours of time I now save not creating these slips is amazing. But some heads insist teachers do it because “It makes the books look nice,” or “The children won’t know what they are learning if we don’t do them.”

The Ofsted comments would be laughable: ‘The children understood the learning in the lesson and produced quality work. What a shame the teachers don’t spend hours every week producing learning objective slips to stick in books. Tut-tut.’

Ofsted simply doesn’t care about any of this. They don’t care how or when you give feedback. This week, the HMI team saw teachers who, because of a very sensible marking and feedback policy, had time to plan and create great lessons.

They hadn’t spent hours and hours proving their impact in books. And how refreshing it has been. Thank you current headteacher!

The writer is a teacher in England

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