Marking Madness

How has it come to this?

Marking has been demonised. It has been hijacked by the workload witches and warlocks of marking martyrdom who rage against the machine.

They hate marking and pour scorn on it at every available opportunity. They’ve recruited thousands of anti-marking members along the way and kick, scream and protest with fervour. Marking is a cancer.

Marking is seen as the enemy of wellbeing, a beast that needs taming and in some cases slaying.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

No one can really defend triple marking and there is a definite insanity to marking piles and piles of books, worksheets and projects that tear at the very fabric of your being and leave your private life in tatters.

Marking is a burden and can make a mockery of your work-life balance if it is mismanaged but not when it is powered by astute guidance and sensible expectations.

The Workload Review recommend “meaningful, manageable and motivating” approach to marking and this can be achieved. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that marking can further children’s learning.

Marking is necessary, intrinsic and an expected part of teaching: you’ve got to get your hands dirty.

Or do you?

Zero Marking, Zero Sense

The zero marking movement laugh in the face of marking and see it as futile so they decide not to do it. Their ‘No Marking’ line looks and feels anarchic but is it reckless, gutless and an easy way out?

They claim to have the best interests of teachers and pupils at heart but does it strip teaching of its professionalism and place most of the responsibility on pupils themselves?

Getting children to mark their own work and marking the work of their peers does indeed have some value but isn’t this marking on the cheap disguised as metacognition, independence and resilience?

There are some that argue schools don’t need to have a marking policy because this leaves the door wide open for attack and when Ofsted get their hands on it they will hold you accountable especially if you have gone off-piste and off-road.

Okay, no problem. Ofsted aren’t going to report on marking or make judgments on it other than whether it follows the school’s assessment policy. Fine – then keep your assessment policy or your feedback policy (or whatever you decide to call it) simple. It doesn’t have to be complicated!

Schools do need a marking policy otherwise it becomes a free for all and anything goes.

How do teachers know what is expected of them? How will supply teachers know what is expected of them?

Of course a school needs a marking policy – it’s one of the most important policies you will write in the context of the wellbeing and workload debate. Okay, it may not be a statutory requirement but 99% of schools have one.

What you write in your policy matters. Even if you offer soft guidance about not having to mark every single piece of work, cutting back on meaningless exchanges and that wellbeing comes first, it lets teachers know where they stand. It doesn’t have to be a long document but it does need to have substance.

Workload warriors have contaminated, manipulated and confused the debate and given school leadership teams a good ticking off for not looking after their staff. Staff, marking books? Whatever next, they’ll be expected to teach as well no doubt.

Meticulous marking used to be the hallmark of a conscientious teacher. Marking was a chore and yes a ball and chain but a valuable part of the feedback and feed forward entitlement.

Pupils need their work marked and they need to see comments so they can reflect and act upon pointers, advice and suggestions.

For many marking is part of the job of teaching. It isn’t an occupational hazard but a vital part of linking teaching, learning and assessment.

Verbal feedback relies heavily on memory and being able to recall what was said. This is a big ask because pupils and teachers have a lot to remember. Zero marking and verbal only feedback is not perfect.

Our memories are good but they aren’t that good: “Come on, you must be able to remember what I said about relative clauses on Tuesday’s lesson before the summer break!”

Alternatively, take a look at your book and see the comments I made.

Marking serves a definite purpose and to abandon it is professionally negligent.

How can we seriously leave errors and misconceptions unattended in books and rely on telling pupils what’s what? Zero marking is a cop-out and leaves someone else to pick up the pieces.

If we are expecting pupils to thrive on verbal feedback alone then forget it – leaky and fragile memories can’t cope. Marking has to be included not excluded just so it frees up some me time.

Parents couldn’t care less about teacher workload and will soon point to their own hectic and work-heavy lives as a reality check. Speak to a doctor, nurse, police officer etc and they’ll tell you what they have to cope with minus the holidays.

If you want to make your mark then mark with a mission and make it a friend not a foe.

If the impact of marking is very low then change the culture around it to make marking matter and make it count and prove the assessment mavens wrong.

Marking can have high impact when placed at the heart of  teaching and learning and not just some add-on or post-mortem, post-match analysis.

Marking should be a living and breathing  part of lesson-time alongside other forms of feedback. It should also be a sit-down after a lesson job for forensic scrutiny.

Teacher marking should have clout and punch – if it isn’t then examine why it isn’t and rewire the culture.

Marking isn’t toxic waste to be avoided.

In the right hands, creative and intelligent marking should be the pot of gold at the end of the teaching rainbow.  It should be memorable, relevant and inspirational, not thwacked and squashed like an annoying wasp causing havoc in the classroom.

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