Some habits are hard to shift and some myths are difficult to bust. Arguably, over the last five years or so, excessive marking has become the biggest workload burden on teachers. The kernel of truth that marking can benefit a child’s progress has given birth to draconian marking policies that bind teachers into an endless cycle of marking.
Where did the spiraling influence of marking policies come from? Of course, marking has always been around and as an English teacher of a proud fourteen years, it has always been something of an albatross around my neck. And yet, it is only in the past half a decade or so that marking policies have become standardised and their importance heightened. The marking myth has mushroomed.
You could offer the notion that marking policies took on greater importance when OFSTED announced that lesson gradings were no longer the way they, or schools themselves, could judge teaching and learning. In this vacuum of accountability within schools, and more broadly schools, work scrutiny was exalted to the new method of judging teaching and learning (and for some, keeping teachers in line).
Instead of lesson gradings, you hear of the wholly spurious practice of grading work scrutinies. Such dodgy methods no doubt contributes to the workload crisis that is a clear and present danger for teacher retention and recruitment across the country.
Mad about marking
Of course, we all know why schools are mad about marking.
Marking has a triple impact in terms of accountability. OFSTED could seemingly scrutinise it and parents can each night too (school leaders the world over know that parents want to see marking of some fashion bedaubing the books of their brethren – it is an understandable proxy for paying attention to children). The third impact of such marking policies is that it allows for tight scrutiny of teachers. In our age of shrinking budgets and performance related pay, such policies become a lever to hold down pay or even to drive teachers out of a school all together.
There is the promise of a brighter dawn amidst the darkness though. This week, Sean Harford, National Director of OFSTED released their latest ‘Inspection Report‘ – see HERE. It cites the weak evidence that attends “more detailed or elaborate marking” (read the EEF evidence in ‘A Marked Improvement‘ cited by Harford) – which drives much of the excessive marking demands on teachers:
I look forward to the day when OFSTED reports comment explicitly on ‘excessive marking‘ and seek out marking/feedback policies and query their impact, on students’ learning and, crucially, on teacher workload. They should also seek out evidence of spurious work scrutiny grading or other such practices that are implemented in their name too.
As Harford states, the OFSTED marking myth is a hard one to bust, but this latest OFSTED steer to schools is a positive sign. Stopping the focus on marking in OFSTED reports is a great move. The inspection report update should go straight into the OFSTED file of school leaders everywhere and it should prompt edits to our marking or feedback policies too.
OFSTED still has more to do, but as school leaders we need to do our part in busting the marking myth.