Assessment for Learning

Education Minister, Nick Gibb announced last week that teachers are spending too long on marking. He expanded by identifying that there is a requirement for teachers to comment in depth and use strategies such as different coloured pens. This is often needless, Gibb said and has never been a government or Ofsted requirement. He suggested that often a simple grade in a student’s book will suffice. In one free school where similar approaches had been applied, teachers had time freed up to set more homework.
I’m certain that almost every teacher who read these comments has an opinion on them. Many would have reacted negatively to a politician passing opinion on a subject in which he isn’t qualified. In the case of assessment, the idea that teachers suddenly change direction in response to comments by an education minister seems absurd. Teachers spend months and years developing effective assessment systems. They want to be the ones to develop and impose them.
Nick Gibb has something when he says that Ofsted have never prescribed assessment methods or marking systems. However, he’s wrong to suggest that Ofsted is not the reason for some of how we currently mark. It’s been several years since Ofsted asked for effective comments and responses in exercise books; since then assessment methods have snowballed into those we recognise now. Time spent on marking and teacher accountability for the minutiae of that marking continues to grow.
But evidence says that simply marking student work with a grade is counterproductive and less effective. In other words, Gibb is likely wrong. What is clear to teachers but less clear to Gibb is that education professionals not politicians need to be the ones deciding how best to mark students’ work.
Many also pricked up their ears to hear an education minister taking an interest in our working hours. I felt my heart lift momentarily until I realised the whole idea was to free up time for other work – both for teachers and pupils. Gibb further suggested that teachers in the UK are not working smart enough, whilst conceding that our teachers do work longer hours than colleagues in other OECD countries. There seemed to be nothing in Gibb’s comments about moving forward.
A couple of days after making these comments Nick Gibb had to concede that a third of new teachers in England are now leaving their career within five years. Workload is a large part of what is to blame. Perhaps Gibb is listening but he’s just not thinking. Action on teacher workload is needed now and it’s needed from the top down.

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