We don’t care how teachers mark and give feedback, but books need to be marked by teachers.

After reading a few posts about feedback lately, I thought I’d revisit and share my own views on this important matter.  From the outset I’d state that we:

1. Don’t care how teachers mark and provide feedback, as long as it is happening.
2. Know that marking and acknowledging work is a key driver to raising expectations.

If it were up to me, all teachers would do is mark, plan, teach and repeat.

Effective feedback is vital to moving young people on, and is part of my dream model of learning:

So, marking and feedback is important but it is for middle leaders to decide how best that is done so that it is appropriate to the subject and fit for purpose.  Marking and feedback includes assessment for and of learning, opportunities for which need to be carefully crafted and planned if they are to have the desired effect.  However, as a senior leader in school (with feedback on my brief) it is not for me to micro-manage the situation.  Teachers need to be professional enough to use marking and feedback well and middle leaders need to monitor that.
Middle leaders in fact need to subvert policies.  Our policy sets out three expectations with the express intention to reduce workload and avoid pointless, mechanics marking because ‘the Oftsed’ may come a calling.  As leaders we should ensure that we encourage a business as usual no matter who comes through the door:
1. The feedback sheets are completed once per progress check (6 times a year), or when appropriate.
2.  Feedforward (our name for DIRT) needs to occur at least once per progress check (6 times per year), or when appropriate.
3. Feedback leads to progress.
We expect middle leaders to subvert and adapt their own departmental practice – indeed many see the minimum that we set as too little.  Whole school policies should share general principles and the fundamentals, with signposts to the research underpinning it (both within school and wider) as well as the key people in the school who demonstrate good practice and can therefore provide support.  Perhaps the guidance is too short – but I am a great believer in keeping it simple: any document over a page can not be implemented and a staff can only focus on developing 3-4 things at a time. Baring in mind that there will be personal and department development points also, all of which should span at least a year or more (my current development plan for attendance will run over three years for example).
Monitoring of this is a vital component of supporting teachers to develop better teaching and learning and is the key responsibility of Heads of Department. Part of that monitoring is through learning walks which are more CPD than accountability.  Examples of departments doing their own thing include:
  • Art developing the ‘Explain this page to me’ process that nails extended writing and helps develop better art work as a result (the progress in Art is phenomenal).
  • Symbol marking in History that focuses on exam style answers, from Year 7, based upon the Describe>Explain>Analyse model.
  • Moodle being used in IT and Computing to provide feedback at regular intervals.
However, although feedback is important, and the monitoring of marking and feedback does happen, any kind of monitoring is for one purpose only: to provide a stimulus for conversations with teachers about teaching. Any scrutiny needs to be triangulated with other sources (especially progress and outcomes in external examinations) but must lead to conversations between teachers about teaching: campfire culture.
The monitoring of marking and feedback is carried out by middle leaders and the quality of that by SLT.  Indeed, I’ve spent time with middle leaders dropping into classrooms in order to talk about marking and feedback quality (the important thing here is that you can;t always see feedback actually happening, but you should be able to spot the outcome: high quality work; lots of progress over time and students who know what’s going on when you speak to them. Any monitoring that fails to talk to young people is invalid in my view).
The feedback form (shock horror) that provides the scaffolding for professional conversations. The headings, which are RAG rated, are:
  • Is work of high quality and following the curriculum (which is why the middle leaders is vital right away).
  • Is there evidence of Feedforward leading to improvement?
  • Has the feedback sheet been completed in line with the agreed timescale?
  • Is there progress over time?
Of course, there needs to be support and as part of our general aspiration to raise expectations we have:
  • Held a joint INSET day with our feeder primary schools.
  • Provide an example of our new intakes’ ‘best work’ so that teachers can raise expectations.
  • Whole school book looks around our main focus groups (identified using live data rather than historical Year 11 – they aren;t in our school anymore so the information is of limited value) – the whole staff takes part.
  • All middle leaders have to take part in a learning walk
  • Regular 15 minute forums
  • teachers talking to teachers – so using each curriculum area meeting to share good practice and moderate work.
The thing is, it’s all joined up…
Now, ensuring that marking is done and all work acknowledged (which is not the same as all worked marked nor so we say how it should be acknowledged) is vital as, from experience, books that aren;t marked at all by teachers (there may be peer and self assessment) tend to be full of low quality work and exhibit a lack of pride.  I say ‘full’ but such books tend to be empty. We have also started to insist that books go home so that parents also have the opportunity to look at work, comment on it and check our own practice.
Ultimately, every member of staff is a leader. Every teacher needs to accept the accountability and make decisions.  From my experience (perhaps I’m lucky – for this reason I don’t make generalisations about every single school) monitoring strategies are used to start conversations that take in to account  wide range of data.  However, there is no getting away from the fact that books need to be marked by teachers.

I’d welcome your thoughts.

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