Guest post: How can we reduce marking workload and improve staff wellbeing?

The Key
The Key
According to plans published on Monday by ministers, some young secondary teachers will be offered cash incentives in their third and fifth years in the classroom, in a bid to solve the growing teacher shortage nationwide. Teachers have also been promised more support in training, a reduced timetable of teaching and less paperwork. We asked our members what strategies they had already adopted to manage teacher workload and improve work-life balance.

David Lowbridge-Ellis (@DavidTLowbridge), the deputy headteacher of Barr Beacon School spoke to us about how his school managed to cut its marking workload by 75% through banning detailed written marking and improving the way staff give feedback to pupils.

Why did you move away from written marking?

We made this decision because our 2014 Ofsted inspection told us what we already knew: that marking was not ‘consistent’ across the school, and teachers were trying to use the same format of marking in every subject, which was counterproductive. We wanted to try a new feedback approach which puts the onus on pupils being more self-critical and we encouraged them to ask themselves the following two questions:

  • What am I doing well in this subject?
  • What do I need to do to improve on my work in this subject?

How did you implement this pupil-centred feedback strategy?

We built in dedicated lesson time, or entire lessons, for feedback. This includes activities such as working from prompt sheets, peer marking, analysing model examples, working through sample questions as a class, and self-correction. All feedback was subject-specific and only significant pieces of work were marked by the teacher.

Now teachers give each pupil a green pen at the beginning of the year, which is used in different ways for different subjects, e.g. correcting answers in maths and setting targets in English.

How do you report progress to parents?

We only record 6 data entries per year:

  • At KS3, this is a ‘working at’ grade: a percentage rounded to the nearest 5% based on how many subject-specific objectives the pupil has met
  • At KS4, this is an expected grade for the end of the GCSE course
  • At KS5, this is a ‘working at’ grade
  • All Key Stages also have effort grades (one for classwork, one for homework)

Teachers use this data to generate reports. They also provide guidance to help parents understand how well their child is doing based on this data. But our policy of ensuring that pupils know their strengths and weaknesses at all times ensures that parents should already be aware of how their child is performing.

What tips would you give to other school leaders looking to implement this process?

  • Sit down with staff to find out how they are currently marking and how long they are spending on marking.
  • Conduct a parent forum or parents’ evening to gather their views about marking, and feedback more generally
  • Carry out whole school continuing professional development for all staff in order to explain your research and rationale for changing marking, as well as explaining how you want staff to mark from this point onward
  • Instruct staff to break off into subject areas to discuss how they might change things and to evaluate different approaches. Encourage them to collaborate with each other

Has the strategy had a positive impact on staff work-life balance?

Definitely. The school is now doing a quarter of the marking it was doing a year ago, and teachers have unanimously reported that their work-life balance has improved. They also said that they have far more time to spend on planning effective classes and seeing the ‘bigger picture’ of the curriculum.

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