The three areas identified by teachers’ responses to the Workload Challenge as particularly burdensome were marking, planning and data and a separate report has been prepared on each.

On of the problems encountered in preparing these reports is the lack of a robust evidence base. Too often those involved in compiling the reports were forced to rely on professional judgement and ‘common sense’ interpretations of what little evidence there was. One of the themes which ran through all our work was the belief that marking, planning and data are proxies for teacher performance. On its own, this might be fine – proxies are often the best we can do when trying to get at what makes for effective teaching – the problem though comes from the disproportionate stakes attached to these proxies. Instead of focussing on teaching and learning, schools have become obsessed with attempting to measure, quantify and control; it’s much easier to see if a teacher has followed directives than to evaluate their effectiveness by actually looking at the quality of work students produce. Because of this, the proxies have gradually become more important than what they are supposed to represent.

The marking report was the one on which I was asked to work and, although I am content with its spirit, I am particularly concerned by the report’s opening sentence: “Effective marking is an essential part of the education process.” I lobbied hard for this to be changed to “Effective feedback is an essential part of the education process and marking is just one possible way for teachers to provide feedback to students.” Ultimately, I was over ruled but I want to set out exactly why the message published is potentially harmful. I wrote here about some of the differences between marking and feedback, and in this post I suggested that less marking might actually lead to more and better feedback. If marking is ‘an essential part of the education process” then why is it that so many successful education territories – many of whom do better than England in the PISA tests – don’t bother with it? Clearly marking is not essential but in the UK it has become so disproportionately and overwhelmingly important that even a room full of teachers dedicated to reducing unnecessary marking loads couldn’t conceive of it as anything other than essential.

This is a sorry state of affairs. I may currently be in a minority but then until relatively recently so were doctors who appreciated the germ theory of disease and adjusted their practice accordingly. There is no reliable research on any of the marking practices schools typically use and certainly nothing to justify compelling teachers to mark in a particular form or in a mandated colour of pen. To say more research is needed is something of an understatement.

Despite this, the message of the report is positive and unambiguous about the destructive power of pointless and ineffective marking. We stated that for marking to be effective it needs to be meaningful, manageable and motivating. This is, I hope, clear and easy both to understand and implement. I really hope the report is successful in challenging the false comfort of onerous marking practices and that the immorality of expecting teachers to sacrifice every evening and weekend even to be considered mediocre becomes a thing of the past.

The report can be downloaded here.