The Workload Challenge

How eight teachers across five schools stopped marking for two terms. How did they do it? What happened to their workload? What happened to pupil progress?

Background and context

In March 2016, the Department for Education published Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Marking, a report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group. The report argued that much current marking practice was overly burdensome, without a proportional impact on pupil outcomes. It advocated for marking to be: Meaningful, Manageable and Motivating.

Then in April 2016, the EEF published its review of the research on written marking: A Marked Improvement. A key finding of the review was that ‘The quality of existing evidence focused specifically on written marking is low’

In September 2016, the National College of Teaching and Leadership invited groups of schools to apply for funding to carry out research into effective marking practices. Southwark Teaching School Alliance was successful in its application and from January to June 2017, eight teachers in five schools across the borough participated in a project exploring the impact on both teacher workload and pupil outcomes of moving away from written marking towards verbal feedback.

The intervention

  • The study explored how to reduce the burden of written marking, through: Increased and more effective use of self and peer assessment. Children were explicitly taught how to assess their own and others work effectively and how to give effective feedback, including input on Growth Mindset strategies.
  • Conferencing and verbal feedback instead of written marking. Teachers were asked not to write in children’s books at all during the intervention. All feedback was given verbally, either whole class, in small groups or one to one.

The aim was not only to reduce teacher workload, but to make it more purposeful; to use the time after school previously spent on marking books to plan lessons and interventions in response to children’s work.

Evaluation The Institute of Education conducted the project evaluation, assessing the impact of the intervention on both teacher workload and pupil outcomes through entry and exit teacher questionnaires and pupil progress data.

Findings The final project report will be published later in the year. However, preliminary evidence suggests that teachers in the intervention groups spent on average 3.45 hours a week less on marking than teachers in the control groups. It appears that there was no difference in pupil outcomes between the two groups.

Free How-to guide A free guide to the ‘no-marking’ strategies used by the teachers is available as a download. This guide sets out the ‘how-to’ of marking less but marking better, with references to the published research underpinning the practice.