From Miss Honey to John Keating: the narrative of the martyr teacher has to come to an end.

A friend and ex. colleague of mine recently asked me for some advice. She is currently working as an Assistant Head in a particularly challenging school: high levels of deprivation, tough behaviour and the sort of data that has you living in fear of “the call.”  She is a fantastic teacher: skilled, hardworking and completely committed to her work. “I know I’m making a difference where it really matters.” She said, “I can see the impact of my work which is fulfilling but I have no life and the stress is wreaking havoc on the other areas of my life and my health. But looking for a job in a less challenging school feels like selling out like I’m letting my pupils down. What do I do?”

My friend didn’t come to me because I am some sort of fount of wisdom, she came to me because she knows I was in the exact same position just two years ago. I was an Assistant Head of a challenging school in East London, regularly working 70 hours a week, which isn’t uncommon. Recent research carried out by the Guardian found that a third of teachers work over 60 hours a week, with over 70% believing it impacts on their mental and physical health.

working hours

Of course my situation was my own fault as much as any one else’s. New to senior leadership, I was committed to leading by example: I wanted anyone in my phase to be able to walk into my classroom at any time and see exemplary practice. My books were always (triple) marked and up-to-date, my displays relevant and my classroom tidy and organised. I met every deadline and said yes to anything and everything I was asked to do. I ran clubs, parent workshops and even holiday revision sessions (never again.) I was responsible for teaching and learning in KS1, leading English, the performance management of five teachers, mentoring an NQT, carrying out a full programme of monitoring every half term, coaching and team teaching with struggling staff and producing written data analysis every six weeks. Oh, and there was also the small matter of being a full time class teacher, desperately trying to get 30 six-year-olds, only 2 of whom had English as a first language, to meet National Expectations.

Why did I do it? The simplest answer is I didn’t want to let anyone down. And I WAS making a difference, which in itself was satisfying. The children in our school had such chaotic and challenging lives and I believed that dedicating my entire life to them was the honourable thing to do. There were children whose only meal between school lunches was the breakfast I brought in for them each day.  They needed me and I genuinely believed I would be letting them down by doing less. Not to mention that there was also the very real threat of academisation hanging over us if our results didn’t improve.  I was convinced that the level of work I was doing was necessary to “save the school.”

Other members of staff would comment on how organised I was, they would ask how I managed to Martyr Complexget everything done and I’d just sort of shrug and say, “I guess I’m just very organised.” When really I just wanted to scream, “ALL I DO IS WORK & SLEEP! I’VE LOST 10lbs THIS MONTH BECAUSE I DON’T HAVE TIME TO EAT! MY IRON LEVELS ARE DANGEROUSLY LOW BUT I DON’T HAVE TIME TO GO TO THE DOCTOR! THAT’S HOW I GET IT ALL DONE!” 

Looking back, that would probably have been more reassuring to my colleagues than pretending I was coping with a completely unreasonable workload. I was setting an example but it was unfair to expect anyone to follow it. But I remained determined to keep all the plates spinning – and I did a pretty good job of doing it and looking like I was coping. I was in full martyr teacher mode and everyone around me praised me for my hard work so I didn’t question it. Even when I called in sick to spend two days sleeping, I just told work it was a stomach bug and returned to my old routine once I was back. Even when I was crying as I drove to work, partly because of the stress and partly down to exhaustion, I didn’t think there was a problem with what I was doing, I just berated myself for not coping better. Reflecting on this now, it is no wonder I was ready to walk away from the profession by the end of the school year.

The problem is that we still celebrate martyr teachers; it’s the most damaging narrative in our profession. You see them in films and read about them literature: from Miss Honey to John Keating. Miss HoneyThey’re the teachers who sacrifice everything for their work. We are surrounded by the message that to be a good teacher, to truly make a difference, you must sacrifice your evenings, your weekends, your holidays, your time with your family and friends along with any hobbies or interests. And all for an average salary of £24,525.

15 months away from education gave me some much needed perspective. When I started toying with the idea of coming back I promised myself I could only do so on the understanding that my job would never be more important than my health or overall quality of life. I still work hard: on average 50-55 hours a week – but I don’t take any work home (apart from report writing.) My weekends are my own and I use my evenings to write, exercise and see friends. It’s not that I’m working less, I’m just working more effectively, learning when enough is enough and saying no more often.

It’s very easy for me to say, “I used to work too much and now I don’t and now life is much better” but it took retreating from the profession for over a year to realise that this was possible and to understand that leaving at 5pm doesn’t make me a bad teacher, or any less committed to my class. Once I’d accepted this, I then had to find the right school to return to. Last September I still had half a book to write so I wasn’t going to be able to give over my weekends to school work, even if I had wanted to. I needed a school with a realistic marking policy (no triple marking), a pragmatic approach to monitoring and a leadership team that would encourage teachers to have a life outside of work. The last one is easy: I think every head teacher would say they want their teachers to have hobbies, interests and time with their friends and family but this can sometimes be at odds with their policies and expectations. If we’re going to get rid of the martyr teacher complex from our schools it has to start with the expectations from the leadership.

I used to wear my 70-hour-week as badge of honour: it was worth it just to see the impact I was having and I would glow with pride whenever comments were made about my commitment and dedication. Now, I take pride in turning up on Monday refreshed and full of stories about my weekend to share with my colleagues and class.

I’m no Miss Honey, but that’s OK.

Ofsted Grades: The Good, The Bad and The Outstanding

Before Amanda Spielman took up the post of Chief Inspector, there were rumours she had plans to shake things up a bit. One example was her views about the “Oustanding” judgement. She told the Commons Education Select Committee, “I’m quite uncomfortable about some of the effects you see it [the grade] having in the system, I have to say.” However, since taking up the post in January 2017, little more has been said about the matter of Ofsted grades – until now. “Ofsted is buzzing with rumours that the grading system for schools is about be scrapped and replaced with pass-or-fail inspections” wrote Schools Week at the end of last month.  If this is true, it will be one of the most positive and significant changes that’s ever been made to the Ofsted framework. The system of grading schools is clunky, outdated and in desperate need of reform to the point that we’ve recently seen schools take Ofsted to court over their judgements, and win. Here’s why these grades need to be scrapped.

1. The problem with Outstanding

I’ve been through two “Good to Outstanding” Ofsted inspections in my career to date and whenever I think back on them I am reminded of this cartoon:

Who's a good boy?

Because let’s face it, we know Ofsted is flawed. We know that schools are more likely to be judged to be Good or Outstanding if they are in affluent areas. We know that primary schools with high numbers of children on free school meals are only half as likely as those with lower numbers of pupils on FSM to be judged outstanding (11% compared with 25% respectively.) We know that Infant Schools are three times as likely to be outstanding than Junior schools because their end of Key Stage data is teacher assessed rather than an externally marked test. We know all of this. It is the basis of much of our cynicism about the Ofsted process.  And yet, if the time comes that our own school is judged to be Outstanding our cynicism is forgotten as we break out the champagne cava left over from the Christmas party, clear a space on the wall for the letter from the Education Secretary and roll out the over-sized PVC banners (please Head Teachers, I know you’re proud but enough with the ridiculous banners.)

And who can blame us? An Outstanding judgement is great news for a school. Following the judgement it’s likely you’ll become oversubscribed. If you’ve previously been struggling to attract pupils you may quickly find yourself at capacity. Well-heeled, middle class parents will go to great lengths to get their child into your Outstanding school going as far as temporarily moving to a house within the catchment area or, should you be a faith school, making a rapid conversion to Christianity. You’ll find it easier to recruit staff and you’ll be inundated with requests from other schools to come and visit in the hope of being able to “magpie” some ideas. The perks don’t end there.

“That’ll shut the parents up for while, we’ve just added a few grand to the value of their houses.” one head teacher told me knowingly, the day we received our Outstanding rating from Ofsted. She wasn’t wrong: within London at least, being in the catchment area of an Outstanding school can add an average of 80K to the value of your property – (estate agents LOVE Ofsted grades.) Such is the power of these judgments.

But the best thing about receiving an Outstanding judgement is that Ofsted then pretty much leave you alone. In 2011, the government introduced a policy that exempts Outstanding schools from further inspection as long as they maintain their performance. This has its own problems. It means there are some schools that haven’t been inspected for over a decade. Which means they haven’t been inspected since the new curriculum was introduced, or the new assessments. It means a head teacher could take over what they believe to be an Outstanding school only to find the reality is very different. Which leads me to another snag with the Outstanding judgement: it can put off potential headteachers. After all there is only one way an Outstanding school can go and no head teacher wants to be the person that “lost the Outstanding.”

However, whatever downside there is to the Outstanding judgement, they are nothing compared to the damage done by the dreaded RI.

2. The problem with Requires Improvement

It is my opinion that one of the most damaging changes made to the Ofsted framework was changing the “Satisfactory” judgement to “Requires Improvement.” Think about what that word, satisfactory, for a moment.

Satisfactory: fulfilling expectations or needs; acceptable.

A satisfactory judgement meant just that: this school provides an acceptable standard education to its pupils. In 2012, it was decided that satisfactory was unsatisfactory and that all schools should be striving to be good or better. A noble intention indeed. But this wasn’t just a discussion about semantics. It was announced that schools will only be allowed to stay as RI for three years – after which they would be subject to regular re-inspections every 12 to 18 months. Every 12 to 18 months: every other school year.

Trying to improve a school with an inspection every other year is like trying to fix a leaking pipe with someone interrupting every two minutes to say, “Is the pipe fixed yet? How much progress have you made towards fixing the pipe? Why isn’t it fixed yet? What are you going net to fix it?” A report in 2017 found that the proportion of schools that had “recovered” from a Requires Improvement was the lowest on record and that doesn’t surprise me. That RI label makes it harder to recruit staff and, because of the endless pressure of regular inspections, makes it much harder to retain the staff you have. The NAHT Recruitment Survey conducted in 2016 found that schools judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate found it significantly harder to recruit staff. This then becomes a vicious cycle because those schools need the most skilled and effective teachers if they are going to improve. The label of “RI” may actually be holding the school back from being able to do the things it needs to do to improve.

Ofsted recruitmentWhich leads to my next point. Having worked in a Requires Improvement school I have seen how difficult it is to make real, meaningful change in such a short window of time. It takes more than 12 months to make proper, lasting change and the threat of bi-annual inspections mean you end up spending most of your time trying to collect evidence that your school is improving rather than putting your time and energy into the things you need to do to actually improve. We knew why our school required improvement and we were very clear on the areas that needed work, however the one thing we really needed is the one thing you’re no longer given under the current inspection framework: time.

3. Removing grades lowers the stakes

Anyone who was teaching in the days when individual lessons were graded as part of an inspection or performance management will know how that one grade will overshadow any feedback. You’d sit listening to the observer talk thinking, “Yep, that’s all great, but what was the grade?” It was a ineffective system that treated trained professionals like children and scrapping it has been entirely positive. Now, feedback after an observation becomes a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of the lesson; there’s no judgement, no label, just some things to consider and work on. It’s more professional and more meaningful.

If Ofsted were to stop grading schools, then inspections would no longer be such a high-stake process. If you knew there was no threat of academisation, or the head teacher losing their job or the humiliation of being “downgraded” at the end of it then the whole process would be far less threatening.  If at the end of the day you were left with a list of strengths and weaknesses that, let’s face it, as a school you would already have been aware of, then inspection would no longer be something to be feared.

This is still a long way off but the fact this conversation is even happening suggests Amanda Spielman is listening and understands the need for reform.

 

Testing Times Tables (and Teachers.)

Long Time No Blog

I haven’t blogged since October of last year. This is because any spare time I’ve had, has been spent writing my book. No one has the time you need to research and write a book spare in their day-to-day lives – it has to be carved out by sacrificing other things and using any spare moment that crops up. Staying late for the Christmas concert? Time to write. Got a seat on the tube on the way home? Write. Early to meet friends for drinks? Glass of wine and write. It’s meant seeing less of my friends and family than I’d like and it’s meant my blog has had to take a backseat for the last few months.

But now, it’s done. Well, I say done – it’s currently with my lovely editor who will spend the next few weeks reading through it before sending it back to me for further editing. But, for now, there is nothing more I can do; for the first time since 19th January 2017 I don’t have a deadline looming over me. This means two things: firstly – time to get out of the country for a bit (which is why I’m writing this in Amsterdam) and secondly, I can finally get back to blogging.

This falls at a good time as the DfE have treated us to three pieces of “news” this half term holiday: the first is that they are dropping the two-year time cap in which trainee teachers have to pass the QTS skills tests. The second, was confirmation that the Year 4 Timetables Check is going to be trialed later this year – not really news but, as Michael Tidd points out, it’s a good way to draw people’s attention away from the third announcement. The third, and most disheartening, piece of news is that the writing assessment framework, the one that most teachers widely acknowledge is not fit for purpose, is here to stay.

When the new assessments were launched in 2016 there was a substantial level of criticism. Some said the assessments were too hard, others said that we didn’t have enough time to prepare the children for them. My main criticism at the time was of the writing assessment. It was unclear, included made-up definitions (exclamation sentences anyone?) and the advice schools received on how to administer and moderate them seemed to vary widely.

Since then, some progress has been made to address these flaws. Exclamation sentences have been dropped for example, and, whereas in the former framework teachers needed to have evidence that a pupil demonstrated attainment in all of the statements to reach one of the standards, pupils can now be awarded a standard without meeting all the criteria if they have a “particular weakness.” However the whole framework still lacks clarity. The “particular weakness” exemption can only be used “on occasion” and “with good reason” – although the examples they have provided don’t really tell us “what occasion” or “why.” The assessments have been described by the STA as neither “best fit” nor “secure fit” which I guess means they are unfit for purpose. The assessed work must be independent (a word that we as a profession still don’t have a shared definition for – does this mean no modelling? No discussion or sharing of ideas? What about having  displays up with key vocab etc…) and the spellings can be from a spelling test, the handwriting from a handwriting book etc… Moderation is going to be an absolute nightmare and ultimately the results will be meaningless. Whilst the DfE have tried to make the assessments more flexible they appear to have just further muddied the already muddied water.

Now, about the times table check: on the whole I think this isn’t a terrible idea (which I understand is a very easy thing to say whilst working at a school that won’t have to do the check.) It’s a 25 minute test and the results won’t be published at school level or used by Ofsted – although I do understand why many teachers don’t trust this to be case. However, if it makes learning times tables a priority in lower KS2 then, as an upper KS2 teacher, I believe that to be no bad thing. A secure knowledge of times tables is invaluable for understanding fractions, percentages, division, averages, area, perimeter, algebra etc… Teachers know this and are already teaching them. Every school I know has had it’s own system of testing times tables so I doubt this Year 4 Check will require any huge curriculum adjustments. If anything, I would like to see these sorts of low-stakes, short assessments happening more often in place of one, high-stakes test at the end of Primary school.

My main criticism of the times table check is the sheer hypocrisy. The same week the DfE confirmed the Year 4 Times Table check they also announce that they are scrapping the two year lock-out period that currently prevents trainee teachers from retaking the QTS skills test for two years if they fail it three times. Now, trainee teachers can take the tests as many times as they need to and teachers who have been previously banned from re-sitting will be allowed to from this week. It seems bizarre to me that children don’t get unlimited attempts in tests but their teachers do. Surely we have to be ahead of our pupils and our knowledge and skills should far outstretch theirs? I had a look at the practice papers and there’s nothing on there that my Year 5 couldn’t answer. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that the adults teaching them should be to answer them as well.

These tests, we were told, were introduced to ensure we were getting that teachers had the high level of maths and English skills necessary to deliver the curriculum. Given their decision to scrap them when faced with a recruitment crisis, can we assume that the DfE have decided the highest standards aren’t important to them anymore? And rather than address the reason teachers are leaving the profession, or why graduates don’t want to become teachers, we will just make it even easier for people to become teachers? This isn’t happening in medicine or law – they have high expectations of the people entering the profession.

So in my opinion, this is a mistake. If anything I think we should follow Finland’s lead where all teachers have a Master’s degree and teaching is a well-paid, highly prized profession. As a result of these measure competition for teacher training places has risen and, last year, only 7% of applicants to the master’s course in Helsinki were accepted. Raise the bar and make sure you keep hold of those who get over it by addressing the reason teachers are leaving the profession in the first place.

GUEST POST: Coming Out In The Classroom

‘Never discuss your private life’. Along with ‘don’t smile before Christmas’, this is one of the first commandments drilled into you in teacher training, but what happens when your private life is visibly tied up with your identity?

2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality. The summer has been simultaneously shocking and celebratory, with a number of very public tributes to the individuals who campaigned tirelessly for this abolition and those who suffered under the consequences of the law.

Having sobbed our way through Peter Gale’s ‘Man in an Orange Shirt’, conversation turned to how invigorating it was to see these programmes so openly publicised. The current generation of school and university students are growing up in a world which, for the most part, celebrates diversity and acceptance. A world where openly gay characters are portrayed living mundane daily lives and ‘out’ members of the public appear, unclothed, on reality shows discussing naked suitors, with no one batting an eyelid. This couldn’t be further from our experiences growing up pre-internet, when the exposure to LGBTQ+ representation was through the scandalous 5 second lesbian kisses on Neighbours and Brookside, or sneaking down late at night to watch Queer as Folk and Bad Girls.

But whilst we are making enormous strides in our public attitudes, there remains one sector of society which is finding it hard to move on. Whilst individually, the majority of pupils approach life with an open mind, as a collective group, our current student body are producing worrying statistics. According to a 2014 Stonewall report, of teachers surveyed, 86% acknowledged homophobic bullying, 89% say that they regularly hear homophobic comments and language and yet only 43% of these teachers say that they would intervene. Only a quarter of all schools provided clear policies on homophobic behaviour and in 65% of cases, even this is not properly enforced. How are we getting it so right in one area of society and yet so wrong in another?

To answer this, we must look to our own attitudes. I remember one of my peers asking our PGCE tutor about coming out in the classroom and the response stuck in my mind for years. ‘Don’t give the children any more ammunition. They will never respect you again’. I was truly saddened by this response, not because of the negativity towards the LGBT issue, but because of the inherent suspicion and distrust she afforded the pupils. Now, at this stage I was not a misty-eyed dreamer, expecting to be adored for bestowing my pearls of wisdom upon eager young minds. I had had my eyes opened after teaching in an underprivileged and unenthusiastic school in northern Spain for a year and subsequently, working as a language assistant in two local state schools. I had seen horrendous examples of neglect, bullying, and gang related violence but never at any stage did I consider education to be a battle pitting teachers against students. I was shocked by her answer but I wasn’t surprised.

See, my PGCE tutor began her career in 1964 and when she entered the profession, homosexuality was illegal. Over the course of her career she saw the decriminalisation in 1967, worked under Section 28 (prohibiting open discourse about homosexual relationships) in 1988, witnessed the repeal of this law in 2003 and the establishment of Civil Partnerships in 2005. It is no wonder the response to the question seemed antiquated. To some extent we are all guilty of making assumptions based on our own experiences but if these attitudes are presented as lore, we are in danger of not allowing new teachers the momentum to move the profession forward.  They say it takes three generations to change public sentiment, one to rewrite the rules, one to bluster through the change and one to have never known anything different. Yet schools and teaching can be inherently institutionalised and may be in danger of not moving on.

I started teaching in a well-known public boarding school and soon began a relationship with another female member of staff. I heeded my tutor’s advice and, whilst one would always aim to be discrete in such an intimate environment, vowed never to allow this relationship become public knowledge amongst the pupils. My decision was confirmed by comments from a long-serving member of the Common Room that ‘people like you shouldn’t be trusted to work in the boarding houses’ and a close acquaintance asserting that I would ‘single-handedly destroy the reputation of the school’. This led to 9 months of looking over my shoulder and cringing whenever a student mentioned anything LGBTQ+ related. I was never 100% comfortable hiding away, but believed it was the only option.

My attitude, however, changed over the course of one evening. One of the 6th form girls came to me in floods of tears between platitudes and armfuls of tissues, she managed to choke out ‘Miss, I think I’m gay and I don’t know who else to tell. I thought you might understand because… you know…’. My heart stopped. She knew. I felt the floor fall away beneath me but my instincts kicked in, I had to put her pieces back together before I could concentrate on mine. By the time we finished, she was bouncing out of the room talking excitedly about her Oxbridge offer. I however, had never felt so sick and immediately went to explain the situation to the housemistress, an insane but wonderful French woman. Far from the conversation I expected, she wittered on about how ‘delighted she was that this girl could come and talk to me’ and ‘how wonderful it was for the pupils to have a visible, gay role model’. Both tears and the scales fell from my eyes.

Far from protecting myself, I was perpetuating the myth that sexuality is something to feel ashamed and afraid of and was helping drive it back underground. I was standing in front of these pupils every day, encouraging them to be proud of their individuality, but refusing to heed my own advice. If we want our pupils to celebrate their diversity, should we not be leading by example? I promised myself that, from then on, I would be honest and open if and when the matter arose. When we married in 2013, one of the mothers made the cake, colleagues attended and pupils conveyed their happiness and congratulations. Why had I been afraid?

Since then I have experienced, almost exclusively, acceptance. The only negative moment was during a maternity cover at an all-boys Catholic school when the headmaster called me to his office to say they weren’t going to extend my contract as ‘my lifestyle didn’t suit their ethos’. I was, naturally, upset and furious and I wanted to spend months seething and plotting revenge. But I didn’t. That would be letting him win. He had the power over my contract but I refused to give him the power to poison my mood. Ultimately, I now didn’t want to work for this institution and the only person who would be hurt by my blistering temper would have been my wife. So I had a large gin, held my head high and ensured that I was particularly subversive in my final months to help create support networks for those who didn’t fit the mould.

Subsequently, any school I have worked for has encouraged me to be open about my sexuality, embracing the importance of visibility. When I was younger Section 28 was in force and, aside from the locker room speculations about the PE teacher, there were no visible role models in real life. Every year I have a couple of students come out to me and this reinforces my belief that we need to support teachers in being open, with no fear of recrimination. We cannot live in the past, allowing antiquated attitudes and our own prejudices to be handed down from generation to generation. We must help move society towards a place where someone’s sexuality is as mundane as their hair colour.

We are incredibly fortunate to be living in the modern world where many of the barriers have been broken down by those who went before us but, in all good conscience, I cannot say that every member of the LGBTQ+ community lives without fear. Yes, we can now celebrate same-sex marriages, proudly go into adoption and fertility treatment, and live our humdrum lives arguing about whose turn it is to make the tea; but to say that we all live without fear of retribution is to silence thousands of voices. We still read of too many cases of violence being perpetrated against members of the LGBTQ+ community, too many stories of young people taking their own lives through fear of social discrimination, too many examples of individuals being turned away from their families. How do we help close the gap between general public sentiment, and the experiences of thousands in their own homes? Acceptance of homosexuality needs to step out of the television screen and into reality but, to make a stand, we need use the resources available to us. Teachers are one our most powerful weapons in the fight against homophobia and we need to give them our full support to ensure that our arsenals are well stocked.

 

#Teacher5aday Day 2 – Managing Workload & Marking

highlighters

In 2015 the DfE summoned our brightest and best teachers, consultants and educationalists and commissioned them to carry out a review of teachers’ workload, the findings of which can be found in this report. Having scrutinised marking policies, the Workload Review team concluded that marking should be underpinned by three key principles. It should be: meaningful, manageable and motivating.

Most of us know what meaningful marking looks like. We’ve experienced the satisfaction of a child being able to tackle an area of learning that they had previously struggled with as a result of our feedback. Meaningful marking motivates children to make progress. So that leaves “manageable.”  How can we make marking manageable? Particularly now that so man marking policies seem to require an arsenal of stationery including at least three different coloured pens.

marking

How to make marking manageable may well be the million dollar question but it’s one we need to start addressing. A third of teachers who qualified in 2010 have already left the profession, with 50% of them stating workload as one of the key reasons, schools need to start taking the issue of teacher workload seriously.

I’m interested to see the suggestions that come out of the #teacher5aday slow chat. So to get us started here are my suggestions for making marking manageable.

Plan Your Marking

One of the greatest challenges I faced as an Assistant Head was juggling my role as a full time class teacher with my leadership responsibilities. In an attempt to maintain some sanity, I created planning rotas for maths and English. No they weren’t always kept to, but more often than not I could get all my marking done between 7am-8:30am and 3:30pm – 6:00pm at school. Other than test papers, I never took marking home at the weekends.

Make planning for marking part of your weekly PPA session. Look at the week ahead and the lessons you have planned. Then look at your diary and look at everything you’re doing next week: clubs, INSET, parent workshops, staff meetings, social events (yes, they count.)

Now back to the lesson plans. If one of the lessons requires you to have marked the first drafts of their stories in detail – don’t pencil that first draft lesson in for Monday when you have both INSET and Dance Club. Schedule “heavy marking” days in and write them in your diary so you know not to take on too many extra-curricular activities on those days.

Obviously your marking plan should not guide the learning and sometimes a particular piece of work will HAVE to be done on a day when it’ll be difficult to get it marked but, for the most part, you can plan your marking so it is manageable.

Verbal Feedback

Marking is just one of a variety of types of feedback and arguably not even the most effective for some pieces of work. Verbal feedback allows for a dialogue. The child can explain to you exactly what they haven’t understood and you can respond immediately. You or the child can make notes in the child’s book as you feedback so they have a few prompts to guide them once they return to work.

Verbal feedback can happen one-to-one during the lesson or, having looked at their books, by taking a small group who made similar mistakes last lesson and going through their work with them.

Live Marking

Live marking is similar to verbal feedback but can be done with the whole class rather than one on one. This works well with grammar exercises, calculations and short answer questions. The questions go up on the board and you go through them one by one – occasionally choosing a pair of children to explain the answer or the method. The children can mark their own work as they go and add in their own corrections.

The advantage of Live Marking is that you can get a whole set of books marked during the lesson and all children having the chance to discuss the answer, ask questions about the things they didn’t understand. Something to bear in mind is that this sort of marking takes time. We’re talking 10/15 minutes of the lesson. If you marked like this every lesson children wouldn’t be producing enough work for marking to be an issue in the first place but used occasionally it can be very effective.

Peer Marking

Peer marking takes a lot of training but, done properly, it can be very valuable. I’ve seen effective peer marking in Year 2 and even peer “critique” in Year 1 where they go around and say what they like and what could be improved about the work on their table. Peer marking can work with the same sort of tasks as Live Marking – short answers that are either right or wrong. When it comes to more complex investigations or extended pieces of writing the quality of peer marking relies too heavily on the pupil’s knowledge.

A little tip: in the first week of a new school year mark a piece of shared writing as class and whilst you’re doing this create a “Class Marking Policy.” This could be an agreed list of symbols that you can all use. Keep those symbols on the wall all year and the children can then use this marking policy during peer marking.

Speak Up

Views about marking are changing. Last month Ofsted released a clarification document challenging the idea that they expect in depth marking@

oftsed-marking

Similarly, the Workload Review concluded that, “If the hours spent do not have the commensurate impact on student progress, stop [doing] it.” Spread the word: it isn’t about endless, in depth notes on children’s work it’s about effective feedback – the sort that will actually help the children learn.

If the last two comments you’ve left in Amber’s book are all about using captial letters and fulls stops, complete with a next step task for her to practise them, and two pages later she isn’t using capital letters and full stops – change your approach. Stop setting it as a next step and find some time during the lesson to go through sentence punctuation with her.

If your school’s policy is still demanding twelve “next steps” a week, written in nineteen different colours and adorned with post-its, stamps, and stickers then it’s time to start the conversation about marking in your school. You don’t have to have be in a leadership role to evoke change. So whether it’s at the next staff meeting, or just during a casual discussion in the staff room don’t be afraid to ask the question, “Does anyone else think we could be marking differently?”


 

The #teacher5aday slow chat on workload and marking will be taking place on Tuesday 10th January 2017. The discussions will take place on Twitter both before and after school. Take part by following the #Teacher5aday #SlowChat4 hashtags and share your ideas, thoughts and suggestions. You can find more information on the Slow Chat week here. Here are the questions we’ll be discussing on the day:

1) How much time do you spend marking each week? When and where do you mark?

2) What are the barriers to making marking manageable?

3) How can we overcome these?

4) If you were writing your school’s feedback policy from scratch what would it look like?

5) Is your marking monitored by SLT?

6) What tips/strategies have you got for teachers struggling to keep on top of their marking?

I’m looking forward to chatting with you all.

slowchat4