Marking: how can we make a 21st century policy out of 20th century practice?

I have been gathering thoughts on marking. There is nothing new here, and that is part of the problem! In my school we need to review and refresh our lapsed marking policy, and as part of the process I have drafted the following memo for SLT as an overview of my thoughts and practice/policies I have gathered. What is bothering me is that I don’t think it’s very good. I know that there is loads of innovative work going on with marking and assessment, and 10 years down the line after AFL first appeared there must be a better way. Can you help?

Core Purposes of marking

  1. To acknowledge and assess the students’ learning
  2. To guide the students in their next steps
  3. To inform teacher planning, resourcing and support
  4. To share feedback on progress with students and parents/carers/interested others

 They key issues then are:

1. What to mark

A common theme is managing expectations here (particularly parents). Do we mark all student work? Selected parts? What about work which doesn’t appear in the exercise book? An enlightened approach would perhaps be to mark selected pieces in-depth. Other work may simply be acknowledged in a more ’light touch’ way. The appropriateness and frequency of spelling correction / error correction may depend on the subject. Whilst English for example may want to identify all spelling errors, science may prefer to correct spellings of specialist terms only. As long as students (and staff and parents) know what the expectations are it doesn’t seem to be necessary to have a one-size-fits-all approach.

2. How to mark

Marking in a different colour from the student writing clearly matters but opinion varies on what is best. Red seems to be out of favour and green or purple are sometimes used. Some schools (especially primary) seem to use a two colour system – green ticks for good stuff, orange highlighter for parts that need improving or developing, for example.

Cluttering up the student work with information and commentary everywhere seems to make students switch off or become disheartened. Using shorthand or accessible codes makes it quick for teachers to mark and doesn’t cover the page in difficult –to-read feedback.

I would favour a system which separates out organisational and learning-related feedback, so that issues to do with presentation, using rulers, doodles etc didn’t get muddled in with moving to the next national curriculum level. Whilst in some subjects using a ruler correctly makes a difference, you can get level 7 in French without even picking one up. How much time should I spend on writing ‘use a ruler’ in exercise books?

Students should expect a combination of feedback then, including a level or grade, a comment and a target or guidance on how to improve. Having level / grade descriptors available in books is obviously going to help with student understanding here.

3. How often to mark

If marking is to inform planning and progress, it should be regular enough to provide feedback that will make a difference. Having a minimum expectation is helpful for FLs and staff, as long as there is enough flexibility to demonstrate feedback in all skill areas. In creative arts subjects or PE it may be appropriate to gather evidence of student progress within the same timeframes, although the format will obviously need to be different.

4. Record-keeping

Marking using AFL can be difficult to track and it is hard to create data showing small incremental change using NC levels. Using coded Faculty targets can be helpful for this.

5. Homework


Some schools make a big point of homework being clearly indicated in books / files. However, if SLT want evidence that homework is being done, then a homework log in books which includes work done outside of the book might be helpful.

6. Final thoughts

Exercise books can be used by students and staff in a number of ways in different subjects. Sometimes they are rough jotters where students draft work, sometimes they are a place for notes and classwork exercises to be done. Other times they might be more like a portfolio or display of complete work. There is increasing evidence that the exercise book in itself is a pretty outdated concept that is being rapidly taken over in other schools by e-portfolios through school VLEs. Whilst the exercise book provides evidence of work to parents, it can’t be considered in isolation as evidence of the quality of teaching and learning. As I put at the top, marking is in part about feedback to parents and carers, so it would be helpful to them to know what to expect, perhaps by a page in the planner or a letter home. As we already discussed, marking can also be a very time-consuming use of teacher resource (that is not going into lesson planning or resource creation) so whatever we decide must be both quick and effective!