This webpage provides guidance and information about effective marking practices in schools in England. It reflects the findings of the report on marking published by the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group. These provisions have been included in the NASUWT’s action short of strike action instructions.
The Independent Teacher Workload Review Group
The importance of effective approaches to marking and feedback
Types of marking and feedback
Marking and teachers’ professional judgement
Tackling excessive marking-related workload
This guidance sets out some key principles that can, and should, be reflected in all schools’ policies and practices.
In developing this guidance, the NASUWT has taken full account of existing good practice in schools, the expectations of the school accountability regime and research evidence on the ways in which marking and feedback can contribute effectively to pupil progress and achievement.
Specifically, the guidance makes clear that:
- schools should take meaningful steps to ensure that marking-related workload burdens are manageable;
- verbal feedback to pupils can be just as valid as written feedback and that written feedback should not necessarily be given greater status in schools’ policies;
- there is no need for schools to require that evidence of verbal feedback should be recorded in writing;
- policies should not require teachers to provide detailed written feedback on all occasions when they are reviewing pupils’ work or acknowledging their efforts;
- it is not necessary to engage in detailed marking (e.g. ‘dialogic’, ‘deep’, ‘triple’, or ‘quality’ marking) if this is unnecessary in the professional judgement of teachers;
- any evidence collected through book scrutiny exercises, often referred to as ‘book looks’, should not be used to form judgements about the effectiveness of teachers’ practice;
- an approximate guide to the reasonableness of marking burdens is the extent to which teachers are able to complete the greater part of their marking during their planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time.
The action short of strike action instructions include a checklist to assist members in assessing the acceptability of their schools’ existing marking-related policy and practice.
Independent Teacher Review Group Report on Marking
This guidance incorporates the findings on marking and feedback of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group established by the Secretary of State.
The Review Group was tasked with assessing the contribution made by marking to excessive and unnecessary teacher workload. The Review Group’s report sets out steps that should be taken in schools to tackle marking-related workload burdens in ways that recognise how feedback can be used effectively to support pupil progress and achievement. The report continues to be endorsed by the Department for Education (DfE).
This guidance addresses those elements of the report that refer to marking-related policy and practice that is within the direct control and influence of schools. By making use of the NASUWT’s marking instruction and this guidance, members should be assured that they are acting in full accordance with its findings.
Direct citations from the report are in bold italic text throughout this guidance.
The importance of effective approaches to marking and feedback
The NASUWT is clear that marking and feedback represents an important dimension of effective teaching practice. Marking and feedback:
- ensures that teachers and parents understand where pupils are with their learning and what they need to do to improve further;
- informs interventions to make sure that pupils’ progress is on track; and
- supports pupils' evaluation of their own learning.
The NASUWT therefore accepts that it is reasonable for schools to establish frameworks and systems for marking and feedback. However, it is critical to ensure that arrangements for marking and feedback do not create unacceptable and unnecessary workload burdens for teachers:
‘Effective marking is an essential part of the education process. At its heart, it is an interaction between teacher and pupil: a way of acknowledging pupils’ work, checking the outcomes and making decisions about what teachers and pupils need to do next, with the primary aim of driving pupil progress. This can often be achieved without extensive written dialogue or comments.’ (Paragraph 1)
It is important to note that it is entirely possible for schools to establish expectations in respect of marking that not only meet the educational goals set out above and are recognised by inspectors as contributing to effective teaching and learning, but also limit workload burdens on teachers. Where such arrangements are not in place, the NASUWT’s action instruction on marking provides a means by which more appropriate marking and feedback practices can be secured:
‘Marking is a vital element of teaching, but when it is ineffective it can be demoralising and a waste of time for teachers and pupils alike. In particular, we are concerned that it has become common practice for teachers to provide extensive written comments on every piece of work when there is very little evidence that this improves pupil outcomes in the long term.’ (Paragraph 5)
While schools will want to implement whole-school policies and systems for marking and feedback, it must be acknowledged that practice will need to vary according to the age and ability of pupils as well as by subject or area of learning. Therefore, in seeking to agree acceptable approaches to marking, members will need to use their professional judgement to advocate frameworks that take into account the particular contexts within which marking is undertaken.
Nevertheless, regardless of these differing contexts, practice must reflect the considerations set out below if it is to be regarded as acceptable by the NASUWT.
The Review Group’s report makes clear that marking varies by age group, subject, and what works best for the pupil and teacher in relation to any particular piece of work:
‘Consistency across a department or a school is still important, but this can come from consistent high standards, rather than unvarying practice. Shared expectations of marking will help everybody to be clear about what is required of them, but each subject and phase should be able to determine the policy in their areas…’ (Paragraph 22)
A core principle of marking is that its sole purpose is to support the achievement of learners. A marking policy that fails to recognise this fundamental feature of effective practice is unacceptable:
‘Marking should serve a sole purpose – to advance pupil progress and outcomes.’ (Paragraph 21)
‘(Ineffective marking) can be disjointed from the learning process, failing to help pupils improve their understanding. This can be because work is set and marked to a false timetable, and based on a policy of following a mechanistic timetable, rather than responding to pupils’ needs. It can be dispiriting, for both teacher and pupil, by failing to encourage and engender motivation and resilience.’ (Paragraph 17)
The Review Group stresses that marking is best regarded as one element of wider approach to feedback and assessment. Its report is clear that it is inappropriate to regard marking as more important or more effective than other forms of feedback or to consider it in isolation from other ways in which pupils’ work is assessed.
‘Marking should be part of an assessment policy alongside other practices that inform teachers, create positive pupil outcomes and drive future planning. Giving marking separate policy status may have contributed to the perception that it is more important and has more impact than other types of feedback.’ (Paragraph 19)
Ofsted’s publication, Ofsted inspection: myths, confirms Ofsted’s expectations of key features of policy and practice in schools
In relation to marking and feedback, it states:
‘Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.’
On the specific issue of recording oral feedback given to pupils, the document is clear that:
‘...while inspectors will consider how written and oral feedback are used to promote learning, Ofsted does not expect to see any written record of oral feedback provided to pupils by teachers.’
Ofsted inspection: myths further confirms that marking policies and expectations in schools must avoid imposing workload intensive and burdensome requirements on teachers:
‘If it is necessary for inspectors to identify marking as an area for improvement for a school, they will pay careful attention to the way recommendations are written to ensure that these do not drive unnecessary workload for teachers.’
NASUWT members should therefore resist any attempt to justify the imposition of onerous or workload intensive marking arrangements on the basis that Ofsted expects such systems to be in place and that schools will suffer detrimental inspection outcomes if they are not.
Types of marking and feedback
It is essential that whole school marking-related policies recognise that feedback to pupils can be given verbally or in writing and that both types of feedback can be equally valid. Written feedback or marking should therefore not necessarily be given greater status or emphasis than verbal feedback. For some forms of learning and for the youngest pupils, the greater part of feedback given to pupils is likely to be verbal rather than in writing. Depending on context and the professional judgement of teachers, verbal feedback can also be given to pupils individually as well as collectively.
While it is acknowledged to be important that pupils are given opportunities to respond to this feedback, there is no need for policies to require that teachers provide written evidence of instances of verbal feedback given to pupils:
‘… ineffective marking…usually involves an excessive reliance on…extensive written comments in different colour pens, or the indication of when verbal feedback has been given by adding ‘VF’ on a pupil’s work.’ (Paragraph 17)
Systems in place to acknowledge the written work and efforts of pupils should not require that these acknowledgements include detailed written comments. Instead, pupils’ work can be recognised appropriately and effectively by means of ticks, agreed symbol systems, stickers or stamps. It is also not necessary to compel teachers to make use of different coloured pens to differentiate between different forms of written comment.
The NASUWT recognises that the provision of more detailed written feedback to pupils can have an important role to play in supporting their learning. Such marking is often referred to as deep marking. Other terms used commonly to describe this form of feedback include:
- diologic marking;
- triple marking;
- quality marking;
- ‘two stars and a wish’; or
- ‘www (what went well)/ebi (even better if)’.
This type of marking can take various forms but tends to be characterised by the provision of detailed written feedback by teachers that reflects pupils’ progress towards relevant learning objectives. Pupils are then expected to provide a written response confirming that they have understood this feedback and describing how they intend to respond. This response is then often subject to further written teacher comments:
‘As a working definition (of deep marking) we adopted the following: “Deep marking is a generic term used to describe a process whereby teachers provide written feedback to pupils offering guidance with a view to improving or enhancing the future performance of pupils. Pupils are then expected to respond in writing to the guidance which in turn is verified by the teacher.”’ (Paragraph 12)
The NASUWT has become increasingly concerned by cases in which teachers are expected to engage in this form of marking to an excessive extent. The NASUWT’s attention has been drawn to some schools in which marking of this type is expected for all or most completed pieces of pupils' written work.
The Review Group identified the overuse of deep marking as highly problematic and is a significant contributor to excessive teacher workload. It was clear that the use of deep marking is too often imposed for reasons related to the internal accountability of teachers rather than the contribution it makes to supporting pupils’ progress:
‘Deep marking also seems to have been supported by an assumption that marking provides a more thorough means of giving feedback and demonstrates a stronger professional ethic, as well as improving pupil outcomes. Deep marking often acts as a proxy for ‘good’ teaching as it is something concrete and tangible which lends itself as ‘evidence’. In some cases, the perception exists that the amount of marking a teacher does equals their level of professionalism and effectiveness. These are false assumptions.’ (Paragraph 16)
Schools’ policies should take account of the fact that there is no evidence that the extensive use of deep marking contributes to securing high rates of pupil progress and achievement and that its use should therefore be at the discretion of individual teachers and not an imposed requirement on them:
Schools may wish to establish arrangements that allow for the quality of marking and its compliance with relevant policies to be monitored. In so far as this information is used to make judgements about the effectiveness of teachers, the NASUWT is clear that this is only acceptable if it has been agreed as evidence to be used for this purpose at the planning stage of the performance management cycle. However, the Union strongly recommends that teachers do not agree to the use of this evidence for this purpose.
Further advice and guidance about performance management, including how the Union’s action short of strike action instructions can be used to secure acceptable performance management arrangements, can be found on the performance management pages of this website.
Some schools periodically collect samples of pupils’ written work to monitor compliance with marking-related policies. Such practices are often described as ‘book scrutinies’, ‘book audits’ or ‘book looks’. The NASUWT’s action short of strike action instructions confirm that any evidence collected through book scrutiny exercises that has not been agreed during the performance management planning meeting cannot be used to form judgements about the professional effectiveness of teachers.
It should also be noted that the Review Group has stressed that the use of marking for this purpose can undermine its effectiveness for pupils and its manageability for teachers:
‘Marking has evolved into an unhelpful burden for teachers, when the time it takes is not repaid in positive impact on pupils’ progress. This is frequently because it is serving a different purpose such as demonstrating teacher performance or to satisfy the requirements of other, mainly adult, audiences. Too often, it is the marking itself which is being monitored and commented on by leaders rather than pupil outcomes and progress as a result of quality feedback.’ (Paragraph 10)
Marking and teachers’ professional judgement
The Review Group was clear that trusting teachers to use their professional judgement in relation to marking is critical to effective practice:
‘Teachers should be clear about what they are trying to achieve and the best way of achieving it. Crucially, the most important person in deciding what is appropriate is the teacher. Oral feedback, working with pupils in class, reading their work – all help teachers understand what pupils can do and understand. Every teacher will know whether they are getting useful information from their marking and whether pupils are progressing.’ (Paragraph 21)
As noted above, while it is reasonable for schools to establish consistent expectations in relation to marking, teachers should be given responsibility for developing effective approaches for their subjects and phases rather than having rigid and burdensome requirements imposed upon them:
‘...each subject and phase should be able to determine the policy in their areas, responding to the different workload demands of each subject/phase, and drawing on teacher professionalism to create meaningful and manageable approaches.’ (Paragraph 22)
Tackling excessive marking-related workload
It is essential that marking, feedback and assessment practices in schools make an effective contribution to reducing excessive workload burdens and ensuring that teachers’ time is directed towards activities that support pupils’ progress most effectively.
Schools must therefore ensure that marking requirements on teachers are evaluated for their workload impact and recognise that teachers’ time is a finite resource that should not be wasted on unproductive marking to the detriment of their entitlement to a meaningful work/life balance. This imperative is set out unequivocally in the Review Group’s report:
‘Feedback can take the form of spoken or written marking, peer marking and self-assessment. If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on pupil progress: stop it.’ (Review Group’s emphasis) (Paragraph 25)
‘The time taken to mark does not always correlate with successful pupil outcomes and leads to wasted teacher time. Examples of disproportionate marking practice include: extensive comments which children in an early years’ class are unable to read, or a written dialogue instead of a conversation. If teachers are spending more time on marking than the children are on a piece of work then the proportion is wrong and should be changed.’ (Paragraph 23)
Marking-related policies must therefore be developed on the basis of a clear understanding of the need to sustain manageable teacher workloads:
‘Senior leaders and governors are responsible for the effective deployment of all resources in the school. They should take into account the hours teachers spend on marking and have regard to the work-life balance of their staff.’ (Paragraph 24)
It is also essential that the workload implications of schools’ marking practices and expectations are kept under review:
‘The key is for schools to challenge and review their marking practice, making sure they are considering the impact on teacher workload when setting expectations. Teachers will be better able to exercise their professional judgement about the type of work to be set, including more extensive written tasks, if the marking load is manageable and when released from the burden of deep marking every piece of work.’ (Paragraph 25)
Where reviews of marking-related policies and expectations highlight workload-intensive approaches, schools must discontinue their use and develop appropriate alternatives:
‘…if your current approach is unmanageable or disproportionate, stop it and adopt an approach that considers exactly what the marking needs to achieve for pupils. The impact on teacher workload must be taken into account when reviewing, developing and following marking practice and school assessment policies.’ (Paragraph 31)
Teachers’ planning, preparation and assessment (PPA) time is self-directed time in which teachers have the opportunity to undertake tasks including assessing the work of the pupils for whom they are responsible. The NASUWT is clear that marking therefore represents an entirely appropriate use of PPA time.
The extent to which PPA time is sufficient for teachers to complete the majority of their marking provides a useful approximate guide to the reasonableness of marking burdens. If, despite using PPA time for marking, teachers are required to spend excessive additional time marking pupils’ work, this may indicate that burdens are unacceptable and need to be addressed through amendments to schools’ marking-related policies and practices.