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Making Assessment Manageable

Updated: Nov 24, 2022


The Early Career Framework states that teachers must learn that... Working with colleagues to identify efficient approaches to assessment is important; assessment can become onerous and have a disproportionate impact on workload.


The first thing you need to do to keep assessment sustainable is to keep things as simple as possible. Many strategies such as whole class feedback, dot marking and marking codes are discussed on the Early Career Hub from the Chartered College and they can be found here.


Workload is the biggest and most consistent complaint from teachers. Marking and assessment is the largest contributor to this. One thing you can do to assist with this is to get into a regular routine of marking at school. It is almost impossible to get all your marking done at school, but also by the time you have got home, put your children to bed, eaten (or not eaten your dinner) and sat down to start marking, you are not at your best. You become slow, sluggish and easily distracted: not a good state to mark accurately and provide concise, helpful feedback to students! However, if you complete an hour’s marking before you leave school, you will have been able to absorb the mark-scheme with your ‘school-speed’ head on, and consequently with more clarity and effectiveness. Then, if you resume marking, at home, you have already built up some momentum to get you through more efficiently. Try setting your alarm to an hour before you need to leave school and put whatever you were doing aside, then mark for your final hour. Trust me, it will make a world of difference.


Another tip is to limit your feedback. You may think that your annotations are helping your students, but how realistic is it for them to read through, understand and act on multiple annotations in every paragraph of their work? Feedback is only useful, if students have time to absorb it and act on it, so it is better to write less but make your students do more with it. Try limiting yourself to three annotations in an extended piece of work, then focus on one strength and one improvement in your summative feedback. This is infinitely more manageable for you and your students.


It can also be a good idea to time yourself when marking. It is so easy to fall into the trap of spending twenty minutes marking the assessment of a student, who just hasn’t got it. But, that means you will undoubtedly end up spending three minutes marking another student’s work, as time runs out before Masterchef begins. That isn’t fair to the three-minute student, and do you seriously expect the twenty-minute student to appreciate the extra time you have spent over them? Will your mass of scribblings make sense to them, anyway? I now set my timer for 5 minutes for each student. This means that each student gets an equal amount of my time, and a reasonable amount of feedback. It also keeps me more focused and helps me to pick away at that huge pile of books more systematically. I also like to allow myself a "reward" such as a cup of tea & a biscuit after X amount of books or exam papers.


Finally, seeking the advice from your more experienced colleagues on how they mark and manage their marking is an excellent way to learn the "tips of the trade". Moderation is one of the ways that you can reduce your workload when it comes to assessment. Moderation is the practice of teachers or students sharing and developing their understanding of what learning looks like by examining examples of different types and quality of students’ work and comparing these with formal standards and success criteria.


The practice gives teachers and students the collaboration structure and processes to look closely at evidence (student work samples) to establish:

  • what is to be learned?

  • how is learning progressing?

  • what will be learned next?

Moderation enables you to discuss assessments with your colleagues to ascertain exactly how to mark students' work. This is turn makes your marking more efficient and more effective.


What ineffective marking looks like:

  • It usually involves an excessive reliance on the labour intensive practices under our definition of deep marking, such as extensive written comments in different colour pens, or the indication of when verbal feedback has been given by adding ‘VF’ on a pupil’s work.

  • It can be disjointed from the learning process, failing to help pupils improve their understanding. This can be because work is set and marked to a false timetable, and based on a policy of following a mechanistic timetable, rather than responding to pupils’ needs.

  • It can be dispiriting, for both teacher and pupil, by failing to encourage and engender motivation and resilience.

  • It can be unmanageable for teachers, and teachers forced to mark work late at night and at weekends are unlikely to operate effectively in the classroom.

According to a DfE Workload Survey, marking needs to be meaningful, manageable and motivating:

  • Meaningful: marking varies by age group, subject, and what works best for the pupil and teacher in relation to any particular piece of work. Teachers are encouraged to adjust their approach as necessary and trusted to incorporate the outcomes into subsequent planning and teaching.

  • Manageable: marking practice is proportionate and considers the frequency and complexity of written feedback, as well as the cost and time-effectiveness of marking in relation to the overall workload of teachers. This is written into any assessment policy.

  • Motivating: Marking should help to motivate pupils to progress. This does not mean always writing in-depth comments or being universally positive: sometimes short, challenging comments or oral feedback are more effective. If the teacher is doing more work than their pupils, this can become a disincentive for pupils to accept challenges and take responsibility for improving their work.

I encourage you to read the report (in particular pages 8-10) as there are some very useful observations and pieces of advice contained within them. Whilst you are the only person who can organise your time and your marking, it is important to discuss your ideas with those more experienced colleagues around you and always consider the 3Ms when you are marking.


[Further reading recommendations are indicated with an asterisk.]

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (2009) Developing the theory of formative assessment. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 21(1), pp.5-31.

*Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B., & Wiliam, D. (2004). Working inside the Black Box: Assessment for Learning in the Classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 86(1), 8–21. Accessible from: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ705962

Christodoulou, D. (2017) Making Good Progress: The Future of Assessment for Learning. Oxford: OUP. *Coe, R. (2013) Improving Education: A triumph of hope over experience. Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring. Accessible from: http://www.cem.org/attachments/publications/ImprovingEducation2013.pdf .

*Education Endowment Foundation (2016) A marked improvement? A review of the evidence on written marking. Accessible from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Publications/EEF_Marking_Review_April_2016.pdf .

Education Endowment Foundation (2018) Sutton Trust-Education Endowment Foundation Teaching and Learning Toolkit: Accessible from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/evidence-summaries/teaching-learning-toolkit/ [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Gibson, S., Oliver, L. and Dennison, M. (2015) Workload Challenge: Analysis of teacher consultation responses. Department for Education. Accessible from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485075/DFE-RR456A__Workload_Challenge_Analysis_of_teacher_consultation_responses_sixth_form_colleges.pdf .

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007) The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Harlen, W. & James, M. (1997) Assessment and Learning: differences and relationships between formative and summative assessment, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice 4:3, 365-379.

Kluger, A. N., & DeNisi, A. (1996) The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological Bulletin, 119(2), 254–284. https://doi.org/10.1037/0033-2909.119.2.254 .

Sadler, D. (1989) Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional Science, 18(2), pp.119-144.

Speckesser, S., Runge, J., Foliano, F., Bursnall, M., Hudson-Sharp, N., Rolfe, H. & Anders, J. (2018) Embedding Formative Assessment: Evaluation Report. [Online] Accessible from: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/EFA_evaluation_report.pdf [retrieved 10 October 2018].

Wiliam, D. (2010) What Counts as Evidence of Educational Achievement? The Role of Constructs in the Pursuit of Equity in Assessment. Review of Research in Education, 34, pp. 254-284.

Wiliam, D. (2017) Assessment, marking and feedback. In Hendrick, C. and McPherson, R. (Eds.) What Does This Look Like in the Classroom? Bridging the gap between research and practice. Woodbridge: John Catt.




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