When you ask a typical headteacher at the moment what the most pressing issue in education is, they’re very unlikely to talk about assessment or workload. Probably top of the list at the moment is finance – with reducing income and increasing out-goings it’s a difficult time. Linked to that is the issue of recruitment and retention. Since so much funding depends on numbers on roll, you need to run a good school to keep numbers up, and to do that you need good teachers.
That’s why I still argue that one of the key things school leaders need to get right in their schools is workload and professional trust. Excellent teachers are not easy to come by, and when we find them, we ought to want to hang on to them and let them do their stuff.
In one of the DfE’s workload reports last year, the marking group came up with the mantra that marking should be meaningful, manageable and motivating. I agree with all three, but I would definitely have put manageable first. When good teachers leave the profession, it is often the manageability of the workload that they cite as the cause. Many more teachers reduce their hours to part-time or decide to choose supply work to make their work-life balance manageable.
The most frustrating element of this for me is that manageable marking can often free up time for clearer thinking and practice into what matters when it comes to assessment and feedback. Many teachers will tell you that the most effective feedback we give to children isn’t that which is written down in red pen at the end of piece of work, but the advice and guidance a teacher provides there-and-then, in the classroom at the point of teaching. By focussing so heavily on written marking, we undervalue the far more useful feedback which is so central to our role.
What’s more, feedback isn’t even just about the information we give to the children. Some of the most powerful feedback that happens in the classroom is the feedback children give to the teacher through their actions, answers… even the looks on their faces!
Assessment is about so much more than tests, and feedback is about so much more than marking. We forget those two facts at our peril.