Markopalypse Now

AHT VAL: And once you’ve finished marking your students’ books and they have responded IN DETAIL to your DETAILED comments, you must take them in again and mark them a second time using a different coloured pen!

AHT HARVEY: A page that’s marked in only one colour is a useless page!

NQT BENJAMIN: Erm, if you say so. But why?

AHT VAL: It’s basic Ofsted-readiness, Benjamin. Without a clearly colour-coded dialogue between teacher and student, how can we prove that the student has made progress as a result of teacher feedback?

NQT BENJAMIN: But I’ve only got this red biro…


AHT HARVEY: In this school we wage a constant battle against teacher sloth and indifference!

(With apologies to The League Of Gentlemen)

I have been a teacher for more than 26 years and I tell you this: I have never marked as much or as often as I am now. We are in the throes of a Marking Apocalypse — a Markopalypse, if you will.

And why am I doing this? Have I had a Damascene-road conversion to the joy of rigorous triple marking?

No. I do it because I have to. I do it because of my school’s marking policy. More to the point, I do it because my school expends a great deal of time and energy checking that their staff is following the policy. And my school is not unique in this.

Actually, to be fair, I think my current school has the most nearly-sensible policy of the three schools I have worked in most recently, but it is still an onerous burden even for an experienced teacher who can take a number of time-saving short cuts in terms of lesson planning and preparation.

Many schools now include so-called “deep marking” or “triple marking” in their lists of “non-negotiables”, but there are at least two things that I think all teachers should know about these policies.

1. “We have to do deep/triple marking because of Ofsted”

No, actually you don’t. In 2016, Sean Harford (Ofsted National Director, Education) wrote:

[I]nspectors should not report on marking practice, or make judgements on it, other than whether it follows the school’s assessment policy. Inspectors will also not seek to attribute the degree of progress that pupils have made to marking that they might consider to be either effective or ineffective. Finally, inspectors will not make recommendations for improvement that involve marking, other than when the school’s marking/assessment policy is not being followed by a substantial proportion of teachers; this will then be an issue for the leadership and management to resolve.

2. “Students benefit from regular feedback”

Why yes, of course they do. But “feedback” does not necessarily equate to marking.

Hattie and Timperley write:

[F]eedback is conceptualized as information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer, book, parent, self, experience) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding. A teacher or parent can provide corrective information, a peer can provide an alternative strategy, a book can provide information to clarify ideas, a parent can provide encouragement, and a learner can look up the answer to evaluate the correctness of a response. Feedback thus is a “consequence” of performance.

So a textbook, mark scheme or model answer can provide feedback. It does not have to be a paragraph written by the teacher and individualised for each student.

Daisy Christodoulo makes what I think is a telling point about the “typical” feedback paragraphs encouraged by many school policies:

[T]eachers end up writing out whole paragraphs at the end of a pupils’ piece of work: ‘Well done: you’ve displayed an emerging knowledge of the past, but in order to improve, you need to develop your knowledge of the past.’ These kind of comments are not very useful as feedback because whilst they may be accurate, they are not helpful. How is a pupil supposed to respond to such feedback? As Dylan Wiliam says, feedback like this is like telling an unsuccessful comedian that they need to be funnier.

13 thoughts on “Markopalypse Now

  1. ijstock January 1, 2018 / 1:44 pm

    I think that the marking bandwagon is *the* greatest piece of evidence to date that school management has left the orbit of this earth and is now circling an entirely different planet of its own making. It is the clearest statement yet that schools now exist to justify their managements’ policies and careers rather than provide education to young people – which has become merely an incidental activity. And it is the greatest marker yet that Ofsted is being used as nothing more than a useful piece of (un)professional emotional blackmail to get teachers to do what those same managers want.

    It is all about ultra-neurotic control of teachers, not the education of children. If it were not, those managers would not, for a start, have lost sight of the fact that much feedback is affective rather than objective. It is as much about morale building as intellectual fine-tuning. They forget that children are not miniature post-graduates, but immature humans in need of encouragement and reassurance. What more proof is needed that education is vanishing up its own backside? This ridiculous fiasco is one of the main reasons I am glad I’m out of it.

  2. e=mc2andallthat January 1, 2018 / 6:18 pm

    I agree most definitely that the vast majority of marking policies seem to have lost sight of the objective. I remember being told that every single page of every exercise book should be marked so that no student errors or inaccuracies should remain uncorrected — and this was in addition to a half-termly detailed feedback on a single assessment! The point you make about affective feedback is important: I don’t think I have ever given due weight to this aspect before.

  3. Michael January 21, 2018 / 3:51 pm

    I think the problem is too many managers with weak classroom practice. They are poor at judging what constitutes valuable marking, so they push onerous and unhelpful marking regimens instead.

    • e=mc2andallthat January 21, 2018 / 8:28 pm

      Sometimes I think the managers are pushing a line that they, personally, don’t necessarily agree with but is just part of the prevailing culture in many schools. I just think that the more classroom teachers are armed with the actual “myth-busting” facts to challenge such nonsenses, the better.

  4. Josephine Martinez January 21, 2018 / 7:55 pm

    I do accept as true with all the concepts you have presented to your post. They are really convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are too brief for newbies. May just you please lengthen them a little from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

    • e=mc2andallthat January 21, 2018 / 8:23 pm

      Gosh, I thought that my posts often tended towards the verbose and could do with being cut down even further! I’m happy to try and amplify any points, especially if you have any suggestions. Feel free to challenge me to clarify any points via the comments if I’ve left anything (unintentionally ) obscure 🙂

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