I read this article on TES over half term with much interest, having recently attended a training day with Mrs Caroline Collett (one of our English teachers here at the school) organised by the ISA. I am a keen Twitter user, following a whole range professionals from practicing teachers to keynote education authors and research practitioners. The issue of marking regularly dominates Twitter and, interestingly, this particular article depicts the variance in the frequency of marking in different schools and the different ways that senior management in schools conduct their quality assurance.

As Deputy Head, I am responsible for leading the quality assurance at Ipswich High School, verifying key teaching and learning objectives such as reviewing teaching and learning through ‘learning walks’ and conducting ‘book scrutiny’.

‘Learning Walks’

‘Learning walks’ involve members of school’s senior management dropping into lessons for up to ten minutes to review a particular element of teaching and learning. The premise of these learning walks is to give teachers feedback to aid their continuing professional development.

At Ipswich High School we focus on the elements that enhance the learning of our pupils, which I personally term ‘the key essentials’. Over half term, I read an article about Barak Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction, which detailed research evidence for the most effective teaching, regardless of subject specialism. Given that these principles form the basis of teaching and learning we strive for across the Senior School, I am confident that this consistent focus will continue to enhance the learning experiences of all our pupils at Ipswich High School.

‘Book Scrutinty’

The practice of ‘book scrutiny’, which is conducted by both Heads of Department and Senior Management, is to review pupil books for a number of factors. This now brings me to marking. The article I mentioned referred to research conducted by the EEF (the Education Endowment Foundation) in 2016 which said, the quality of existing evidence focused specifically on written marking is low. This is surprising and concerning bearing in mind the importance of feedback to pupils’ progress and the time in a teacher’s day taken up by marking”

This statement confirms the caution when reviewing pupil books for written marking, and the reason for this is that the focus should not be on teacher marking alone. In lessons, pupils may frequently be asked to self-assess, to mark their own work or to peer- assess and mark a fellow pupil’s work. Both options enable pupils to get timely feedback on their work. There is also a very common misconception that written marking is the only form of valuable feedback. The focus should not be on the frequency of written marking, but on the quality of feedback and whether it helps pupils to improve.

Feedback Variety

This brings me on to my final and probably most important point. Feedback comes in many forms and teachers feedback to pupils every lesson verbally. At the training day I attended at the ISA head office there was reference to the ‘verbal feedback stamp’; a way of evidencing that pupils had received feedback in this format simply by stamping a pupil’s book and asking them to make note of the comments that were given by the teacher, so it did not go unnoticed, by the pupil, the parent, and of course inspectors.

This is a good way of evidencing and proving action, but is an incredibly laborious task. At Ipswich High School, the focus for teachers is a combination of written marking, whether by pupil or teacher, as well as numerous opportunities for verbal feedback. The school’s marking policy states that a half termly assessment needs to be conducted for all pupils in Years 9 and above and, for pupils in Years 7 and 8, an assessment at least once a term. During this time teachers mark an assessment piece which helps inform pupils of their targets for improvement.

During a book scrutiny I will be looking for evidence of a piece of assessment work, along with the associated target and improvement form. During school inspections, inspectors triangulate their evidence, and will ask pupils in interviews whether they understand their targets for improvement; I hope to replicate this by asking pupils a series of questions of this nature to ascertain either through an electronic survey or face to face.

I hope this piece has helped to reassure parents that if work is marked by someone else other than their child’s teacher, this is part of normal teaching and learning practice, and acts as one of the best forms of immediate feedback. In addition, written feedback by a teacher may be minimal as it will be accompanied by verbal feedback at the start of a lesson. Again, this is normal and good practice. The quality assurance processes carried out by both Heads of Department and Senior Management provides invaluable information to enable teachers to reflect on their practice and, ultimately aid their professional development. It also illustrates to senior management whether the actions outlined in teaching and learning policies, which outline best practice, are in fact being implemented.

Our GCSE results from 2018, which are now finalised after the results of remarks, certainly evidences that the practices outlined in my blog helped our pupils last year secure excellent GCSE results, with almost 26% of Year 11 pupils scoring a level 9 (against a national average of 4%) and 65% scoring a level 7-9.

Nicola Griffiths, Deputy Head