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Meaningful marking

Above all marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating, are we doing enough?

Posted by Rebecca Paddick | July 31, 2016 | Primary

By Gustaf Nordbäck, Head of Global Expansion, DigiExam

Marking should serve a single purpose – to advance pupil progress and outcomes; so says the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group in its report Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking commissioned by the Department for Education (DfE).  And yes I whole heartedly agree – without assessment and marking how is a teacher meant to gauge where students are on their learning journeys and what further help they require to realise their potential?

The report proved interesting reading and proposed a whole host of really effective solutions to reduce the burden on teachers highlighted in the DfE’s workload challenge survey.  It identified three principles that underpin effective marking; saying it should be meaningful, manageable and motivating and suggested effective ways of making it so. However, I believe that the report should have gone further and looked to see what other countries have done to address this global issue.

Sweden is a case in point. Ranked as one of the top five innovative nations in The Global Innovation Index, Sweden has taken a much more hard-hitting approach to marking, embracing technology – specifically digital assessment and grading solutions – to reduce teacher workload by up to 50% and free up time for all- important teacher-learner discussion and engagement. In fact this year >11% of all high stakes national exams in upper secondary schools were taken (digitally) on such platforms.

Other important benefits that stemmed from its adoption included:

  • The ability to accelerate the process further by using linear marking – i.e. allowing a teacher to mark all question 1s, then all answers to question 2s  or indeed work with a colleague by allocating questions 1-10 to them and 11-20 to themselves.
  • Providing written feedback on pupils’ work in an efficient manner using a keyboard to comment.  As we all know, this is an issue that has become disproportionately valued by schools and has become unnecessarily burdensome for teachers - so much so that Ofsted issued a note of clarification to say that “Marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective. If the teacher is doing more work than their pupils, this can become a disincentive for pupils to accept challenges and take responsibility for improving their work.”
  • Collaborative working and the sharing of best practice, questions and co-creation of assessments and exams.
  • The ability to equalize opportunities for students through anonymous grading deployed to prevent discrimination caused by race, gender, sexual orientation or religion and sometimes the presumption that a student who has regularly been awarded an “A” should get a high mark even when work produced was of an inferior quality.
  • A levelling of the playing field for students discriminated against on account of poor handwriting.

As summarised in the report "There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. A balance needs to be struck between a core and consistent approach and trusting teachers to focus on what is best for their pupils and circumstances. With this in mind, the marking review group has developed specific recommendations for Government, Ofsted, employers, governors, school leaders, teachers and researchers, which can be found at the end of the report."

Above all marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating. This should be the perspective adopted by all engaged in education, from classroom teachers to the DfE.

With UK primary teachers working on average 59 hours a week and secondary teachers 56 hours a week, surely we should be embracing a digital testing and assessment platform to both free up time for inspiring, motivating and guiding students through their learning journeys but also to help them to enjoy a better work life balance?

1. Eliminating unnecessary workload around marking Report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group - March 2016 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/511256/Eliminating-unnecessary-workload-around-marking.pdf

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