Marking work

The Great Marking Debate

Sometimes it seems as though there is no greater issue of contention in education than marking! Whether in Primary or Secondary education, there seems to always be an ongoing conversation about the value, necessity and regularity of marking with differing opinions from teachers, pupils, parents and SLT.

Teachers themselves don’t always agree about the benefits of marking, with some seeing it as an essential tool for feedback and progression while others see it as a waste of their precious time with no real benefit to pupils.

What exactly is it that causes marking to be so open to debate with no agreed solutions?

Recent Evidence about Marking

In 2021, the Education Endowment Foundation published a guidance report on ‘Teacher feedback to improve pupil learning’. The report emphasises the importance of pupil feedback through marking, but reiterates that it needs to be relevant, meaningful and constructive. Done badly, feedback can have the opposite effect and harm pupil progress, while taking up invaluable teacher time.

The report highlights that for marking to be effective, teachers must:

  1. lay the foundations for effective feedback, with high-quality initial teaching that includes careful formative assessment;
  2. deliver appropriately timed feedback, that focuses on moving learning forward; and, crucially,
  3. plan for how pupils will receive and use feedback using strategies to ensure that pupils will act on the feedback offered.

The guidance is largely inconclusive about whether marking or verbal feedback is better for enhancing student outcomes. It’s true to say that they can both be effective, depending on the particular situation, but only if they follow the key principles outlined in the guidance.

The report also discussed the frequency at which marking should occur. Often schools outline a particular frequency as a minimum. However, there is an argument that too much feedback is just as disruptive to pupils’ learning as not enough. It is important to find the right balance between written and verbal feedback, and the time it takes for a teacher to complete feedback compared to their available time to complete other important facets of their roles.

Some of the myths that the guidance does dispel are the focus on pen colour in written marking and whether grading itself is actually important.

Motive, Opportunity and Means

In 2008, Professor Shute offered some helpful advice about effective feedback that links well to the key principles in the EEF guidance.

Formative feedback is useful and effective when three ideas are considered:

Motive – the student needs feedback to improve

Opportunity – the student gets feedback in time to respond and make use of it

Means – the student has the ability and commitment to use it

If you measure tick style marking against these principles, you can see it may not provide any effective feedback for pupils. Similarly, whole class feedback, a time saver for sure, will only measure up well to the principles if pupils understand what aspects apply to them personally.

It does seem that marking policies, rather than being prescriptive in terms of frequency and style, could benefit more from emphasising to teachers the principles that would increase the impact of their feedback or marking on pupil outcomes and progress.

Teachers themselves could do well to think about their motivation for marking and how they want pupils to respond and improve rather than following requirements dictated by schools and parents.

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