Less than two years ago I worked with a colleague on an update of our marking policy. Part of the change was a shift to calling it a feedback policy.
Unfortunately, what we did was gave it “Feedback policy” as a title, and then wrote a marking policy. Old habits die hard. But this is one that I’m determined to kill off. So over the past term and a half I have worked with staff across my school (mainly those who are full-time classroom teachers) to develop a new approach which is properly rooted in Feedback.
In doing so, I had a few aims, but the most pressing was to move the shift from focussing on marking for evidence, to a policy which identified evidence of feedback. (There is, after all, a reality that someone will want to scrutinise it at some point!) Part of the reason for that was my determination to try to reduce marking workload. To allow us all to Do Less, But Better.
As yet the policy has not been finalised and approved by governors, but as I have spoken about it, and many have asked about it, I thought it would be useful to set out some key points here.
The policy deliberately starts from some key evidence drawn from the EEF toolkit summary of research into Feedback:
It’s notable that none of this requires written marking. Therefore, upon this evidence is built our outline of the key principles that underpin the policy. I would argue that these are the most important elements for teachers:
Perhaps the first bullet point is the most important. I have had endless conversations with teachers who tell me that they are marking for someone other than the children. We want to put a stop to that.
The fifth point is also significant: perhaps the most valuable feedback that happens in schools has nothing to do with marking: it is the feedback a teacher gathers as a lesson progresses. That is where real immediate action can have immediate impact.
Feedback in Practice
Building on the work of the Assessment Commission, we have set out how feedback is given in three ways (in order of decreasing importance):
- Immediate feedback – at the point of teaching
- Summary feedback – at the end of a lesson/task
- Review feedback – away from the point of teaching (including written comments)
Again, it’s deliberately written to imply that written marking should be an approach of last resort. Often other methods are more appropriate, whether that be individual pointers in the lesson, follow-up tasks, or lesson adaptation based on reviews of work.
I’ve written before about the law of diminishing returns when it comes to marking books. Put simply, the most valuable feedback that comes from marking a book occurs in the first few seconds of looking at it. Teachers can make a lot of more use of that quick feedback than children ever will of written comments.
Consequently, our policy deliberately aims to give teachers the room to use the most effective forms of feedback, without insisting on the demands of written marking where it is unnecessary.
What about evidence?
The main reason most schools seem reluctant to move away from written marking is the need for evidence. How will Ofsted / the Local Authority / the RSC know that we’re giving good feedback, if it’s not written in the book?
The answer to this is obvious really, when we think about it. How does any school leader know where good effective teaching habits are being used? They watch the teaching.
So rather than trying to make our approach fit the need for evidence, we’ve taken the opposite approach: we’ll use the best methods available to us, and signpost inspectors and others to the evidence they will find (which often won’t be written):
We’ve tried to make it obvious. We could have gone simpler: I was tempted simply to write “Go and look in the classroom!”, but I think we’ve found something a little clearer.
My hope is that with this clarity, teachers will feel able to lay off the red pen a bit, and start instead making decisions about how best to spend their time. Often, in my view, a cursory glance at the books, followed by a re-think of the next lesson is far more effective than any amount of comments. Even better if that re-think can be part of a collaborative discussion with other teachers in the team.
There’s more to the policy than these broad strokes. We do still have a written marking approach, and will still make use of highlighters to pick out key points and stampers to indicate common messages (particularly in KS1). We will still set targets based on our Key Objective framework.
But hopefully, we will also see teaching teams using more of their time next year to collaborate on planning the most effective lessons, and finding common solutions to common problems. And they may even get an evening or two back to spend with their families.
Do Less, But Better