Teachers ‘wasting time on marking in coloured pens’

Teachers are spending too much time over-marking pupils’ homework, Schools Standards Minister Nick Gibb has said.

He told MPs that marking in different-coloured pens, and giving feedback in exercise books, had never been a government or an Ofsted requirement.

He told the Education Committee that the practice was adding to teachers’ workload – one of the top reasons given by them for leaving the profession.

Instead, work should be marked with a simple grade, he suggested.

Mr Gibb was responding to questions on how teacher workload was affecting recruitment and retention of teachers.

A recent report found many teachers working as many as 60 hours a week.

He said teachers in England worked longer hours than the OECD average, but spent the same amount of time in front of a class.

And he suggested that they may not be working as smartly as their overseas colleagues.

Earlier, the committee had heard how it had become an urban myth in schools that teachers needed to mark in green and purple ink and give very detailed assessments of the work.

‘From the ether’

Mr Gibb, however, gave the example of a free school which had cut back on marking, allowing teachers to be freed to set more homework.

Instead of detailed feedback, teachers at the school were asked to simply give a grade, he said.

“The key thing is this notion of feedback on the face of the exercise book,” he said.

“This is one of the notions that came from somewhere in the ether, possibly something was said at a conference.

“It was never a requirement by the government, never a requirement of Ofsted, and so we have to send out the message that it is not required.

“It’s not required for there to be this dialogue on paper in different-coloured pens, this to and fro between the chid and the teacher.”

Paperwork

Some teachers he had spoken to were not even sure that children read the remarks left in their books, he said.

Feedback should only come, for example, when the teacher is marking 30 pupils’ work, he said, and discovers that they have not understood something they have been taught.

But the Association of Teaches and Lecturers assistant general secretary Nansi Ellis said she believed Mr Gibb was sincere in his desire to help teachers to reduce their workload, and in particular to reduce “deep marking”.

“But he needs to look at evidence before he starts telling teachers how to mark,” she said.

“Earlier this year, the Education Endowment Foundation found that awarding grades for every piece of work may reduce the benefit of marking, particularly if pupils become preoccupied with their grades at the expense of teachers’ comments, and some forms of marking are unlikely to improve pupil progress.”

David Anstead, of the Nottingham education improvement board, said teachers and heads were in fear of a visit from Ofsted and so got sucked into paperwork which was sometimes unnecessary.

Two-hour limit

“The main thing I get asked is, ‘What will Ofsted think about this?’

“One of the solutions has to be to work together to say actually, ‘It’s all right to do less’. There’s a safety-in-numbers approach,” he told the committee.

He described how in Nottingham, head teachers had agreed to put a limit on the number of hours teachers are required to work.

This meant putting a limit of two hours a day on any extra work they did after their contracted hours at school.

They then signed up to something called a Fair Workload Charter which was on the school website so that teachers wanting to work at the school knew what they could expect.

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