Secondary Secondary English

Ten ways to improve your marking  

Everywhere you look, educationalists are telling us about the importance of marking. From John Hattie to David Didau to Phil Beadle to Ofsted, the virtues of regular marking are being extolled. The efforts of these super teachers are inspiring but it can feel over-whelming at times, especially when you have thirty year eleven books to mark, at 9pm on a Wednesday night. By tomorrow.

However, we can’t just give up, when it all seems too much. I have always known that marking is important but after ten years teaching, it has only been in the last year that I have really come to fully understand, not only the power of marking, but how my teaching will be judged by it. Yes, if you want to make it past Ofsted, then you have to be marking their way.

When I became a Head of Department last year, my department underwent the scrutiny of several HMI inspectors. It quickly became clear that, with progress top of the agenda, students’ books are paramount. Simply put, if progress is not overtly evident in books, then we cannot achieve good or outstanding.

So, here is my guide to how to make your marking efficient and effective:

 1. Get marking quickly at the beginning of term. It makes students feel valued to know that you are interested in their work from the off and it also helps you to get into a good routine.

2. Use practical targets. We have had stamps made up with Now you need to… on them and teachers need to write a specific instruction, e.g. Now you need to rewrite paragraph three, using more adventurous vocabulary.

3. Provide time for students to respond to these targets. We create ‘airbricks’ in our schemes of work, where we re-teach skills based on our marking, then students re-draft their work and act on our feedback.

4. Use questions to create a dialogue, e.g. Instead of writing ‘Add more detail’, write ‘Which detail would improve this answer?’

5. Make it clear where you expect students to respond to your questions, targets, instructions. I have just bought star stamps for my department, so they can stamp any feedback which requires a response.

6. Get students to use green pen for corrections, responses to feedback, peer and self assessment. This makes it really clear for anyone looking at the book where AfL is happening.

7. Signpost progress in books for students (and inspectors), e.g. Great! You are improving in your use of apostrophes.

8. When marking for literacy errors, signpost where you want students to make corrections or practise spellings, e.g.

Practise spelling: determination




9. Stick any paper assessments into books. This may seem like a waste of time, but when Ofsted come in, it will be the books which are on the tables and it will be the books that they will look at. Don’t waste the time and effort you put into marking the students’ mock exams by hiding them in a cupboard.

10. Write less but make it meaningful. There is no point writing half a page of feedback (unless it is key stage 5) and if you try to do that every time, then you will quickly get behind in your marking. A quick turn-around in marking assessments is essential in ensuring that students a. think you care about their work and b. learn the lessons in your feedback. Limit your comments to 1-3 sentences and your targets to the same. Just make sure they are specific to the skills the student is using, e.g. Great effort at using adventurous vocabulary.

All of these points have been about a culture change for me. I am more focused than ever before on how my individual students are moving forward in their work, and they are taking a more active part in that journey. I am certainly not one of the Super Teachers, but I do feel less over-whelmed by the prospect of those year 11 books on Wednesday nights.


Naomi Hursthouse has been teaching in West Sussex for ten years. She has worked as an Advanced Skills Teacher, a Gifted and Talented Coordinator, AQA examiner and is currently the Head of English at Ormiston Six Villages Academy.

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