New guidance from the NCETM on marking and assessment encourages primary teachers to spend less time on marking their pupils’ maths books.
In particular, the guidance suggests that the widespread practice of teachers giving individual and unique written tips and targets to every child in a class after every piece of work is a bad use of time. The time would be better spent on lesson planning, the guidance says.
The guidance is an attempt to address the perception - held by many primary head teachers - that Ofsted inspectors expect to see evidence of regular, detailed and personalised marking in pupils’ maths books. This is, in fact, not the case. The current Ofsted School Inspection handbook contains this paragraph:
Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy.
In this light, the guidance suggests a less time-consuming way of a teacher marking a class set of books, by drawing a distinction between errors that reflect a misunderstanding, and mistake that are simple ‘slips.’ The guidance recommends:
- highlighting ‘slips’ briefly, particularly when there is an expectation that the pupil makes the correction him/herself
- addressing errors of understanding either by individual/small group explanation or, where a misconception is evident in a large number of books, by a whole class discussion.
The guidance also addresses school-wide marking policies, by recommending that:
- it should not be a routine expectation that next-steps or targets be written into pupils’ books. The next lesson should be designed to take account of the next steps.
The guidance, while relevant in every maths classroom, is particularly pertinent where a teacher and a school are adopting a teaching for mastery approach, a central component of which is keeping all pupils in a class working together on the same material. This requires careful lesson planning, which in turn, underlines the importance of a teacher using his/her time in the most efficient way.
Summing up the guidance, the NCETM’s Director for Primary Debbie Morgan said: ‘The most important part of a teacher’s job is the teaching itself, supported by the designing and preparing of lessons. So other activities, such as marking books or collecting evidence, should not be too onerous or time-consuming.’