5: Planning effective and manageable marking and feedback

Session Elements

  • self-assessment
  • practical exercise
  • discuss with a colleague
  • reflection

Learning Intentions for this session

You will learn that:
 6.7 Working with colleagues to identify efficient approaches to assessment is important; assessment can become onerous and have a disproportionate impact on workload.
You will learn how to:
Make marking manageable and effective, by:
6l. Recording data only when it is useful for improving pupil outcomes.
6m. Working with colleagues to identify efficient approaches to marking and alternative approaches to providing feedback (e.g. using whole class feedback or well supported peer- and self-assessment).
6n. Using verbal feedback during lessons in place of written feedback after lessons where possible.
6o. Understanding that written marking is only one form of feedback.
6p. Reducing the opportunity cost of marking (e.g. by using abbreviations and codes in written feedback).
6q. Prioritising the highlighting of errors related to misunderstandings, rather than careless mistakes when marking.


Last week, you looked at how to give high-quality feedback, taking account of a range of important variables. In this self-study session, you will extend your knowledge of planning effective and manageable marking and feedback. You will consider different approaches that you can draw on and use your learning to evaluate your current practice. You will focus on selecting approaches to assessment which are efficient and do not have a disproportionate impact on workload.

Research and Practice Summary

This reading will help you understand some of the theory behind this week’s topic. We will start by introducing some of the key concepts (these are in bold). You will also see some suggestions of how to put these concepts into practice. When using these concepts in your own practice you will need to take account of your pupils’ characteristics, the context of your classroom and the nature of the material that you are teaching.

Reducing the opportunity cost of marking

Sara stretched her stiff neck and arms and put down her pen. Finally, she had finished marking her pupils’ books. After hours of carefully annotating each piece of work, she was fed up with highlighting common errors and writing the same comments again and again. It was clear to Sara where she needed to focus her teaching in the next lesson to address pupils’ learning needs, but she was just too tired to get started on planning this now. The lesson would have to wait.

What could Sara have done differently in this situation? How could she make more efficient use of her time to assess pupils’ work, respond to this in her teaching and give pupils feedback?

Efficiency can be thought of as ‘the reduction of waste’. The most common resource wasted in teaching is time, leading to an overall increase in teachers’ workloads and negatively impacting learning. Reducing wasted time is a key priority for teachers and school leaders.

It can be helpful to think of efficiency as the relationship between time taken and quality of outcome (i.e. ‘value for money’), because it doesn’t always follow that reducing time spent on an activity is a good thing per se. Teaching is intellectual labour, and some parts of a teacher’s work legitimately take time because they are hard to do well. For example, when planning to introduce a new, foundational concept, rushing the planning of a lesson may mean that pupils do not learn that concept securely, affecting many future lessons.

Schools and multi-academy trusts develop their own policies and practices around assessment, marking and feedback. They are encouraged to be mindful of the impact on teacher workload of assessment practices, especially around written marking on individual pieces of work, which can be onerous. You need to be aware of your school’s expectations of marking; you should also seek ways of minimising the potentially negative impacts of marking to excess. Time invested in marking and giving feedback must be used efficiently in order to make the most of the limited resource that you have. Self-assessment and peer-assessment both have pedagogical benefits and can help reduce marking workload for teachers, too.

To help you save time without significantly impacting the quality of outcomes, you could make marking manageable and effective by:

  • recording data only when it is useful for improving pupil outcomes
  • working with colleagues to identify efficient approaches to marking and alternative approaches to providing feedback (e.g. using whole class feedback or well supported peer- and self-assessment)
  • using verbal feedback during lessons in place of written feedback after lessons, where possible
  • understanding that written marking is only one form of feedback (other forms include verbal feedback, peer- and self-assessment)
  • reducing the opportunity cost of marking (e.g. by using abbreviations and codes in written feedback)

An important strategy for maximising efficiency when marking is to prioritise the highlighting of errors related to misunderstandings, rather than careless mistakes.

Mistakes are usually accidental – the pupil could identify and self-correct the mistake if prompted to. Errors can be more serious for learning because they arise from a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding. Although it can be tempting to point out to pupils the full range of mistakes across a task, this has two potentially negative consequences – the time it takes you to mark and the chance of overwhelming pupils with comments across their work. Aim to focus feedback on errors relating to the core concepts of the lesson. To reinforce the importance of good literacy across all subjects, you might correct the first three mistakes of general spelling, punctuation and grammar in a piece of work, then focus only on errors related to misunderstandings in the rest of the task. A general prompt to proof-read work carefully might be useful if careless mistakes are a common occurrence, but the focus of your feedback time can then be dedicated to securing and deepening pupils’ understanding of the concepts most central to their learning.

Using codes to improve Sara’s approach to marking

What could Sara do differently in the situation described above? Rather than spend time repeatedly writing individual comments in pupils’ books, Sara could note the common comments across her pupils’ work and capture these as a set of codes. In the same way that ‘SPaG’ is often used as a code to indicate the need to address Spelling, Punctuation or Grammar, other codes can be used to represent common subject- or phase-specific comments. Marking each piece of work then becomes a case of noting the codes on each pupil’s work, saving the teacher many minutes or hours. This time can then be used to plan lesson activities that support pupils to understand and act on what the codes in their work mean.

Using codes in your teaching:

  • what comments do you often find yourself making on your pupils’ work?
  • can you group these comments into categories that are helpful for making sense of the type of feedback being given? For example, presentation (e.g. underlining titles, writing clearly), subject-specific assessment criteria (e.g. English AO2 – effect on reader), conventions of the subject (e.g. describing scientific experiments, drawing graphs, safe use of equipment)
  • what codes would usefully capture these comments for your pupils in your context, relevant to your specialism?

Self-Study Activities

Review: 10 mins

Read the Research and Practice Summary on this week’s topic. As you read, reflect on:

  1. the practices that you are already doing well
  2. the practices you are doing some of the time but could do more of/more consistently
  3. the practices you do not use in your teaching yet

As you work through the activities in this week’s self-directed study session and mentor meeting, aim to both refine and extend what you already do well, and to build your skill and confidence in using practices which are not yet a regular part of your teaching repertoire.

Plan and Theory to Practice: 30 min

As explained in the Research and Practice Summary, ‘efficiency’ refers to the reduction of waste. You can think of efficiency as having two key aspects in relation to assessment: time taken and impact on learning. The more efficient an approach is, the more impactful the time taken is for pupil learning. In relation to marking and feedback, ‘waste’ could relate to each of the factors in the table below. The table includes ways to improve efficiency, in each case:

Factor affecting overall efficiency
Improving efficiency
The amount of time teachers spend assessing pupils’ work and providing feedback.

Ask pupils to hand in workbooks open at the page to be marked to save time when marking a set of books.

Reduce time spent assessing pupils’ work and writing feedback by, for example, using codes or abbreviations to reference common actions/comments on work or giving verbal instead of written feedback.

Give feedback to pupils in small groups or as a class rather than individually.

Engage pupils in peer-assessment and/or self-assessment, where appropriate.

The amount of time pupils take to make sense of, engage with and respond to feedback.

Improve clarity and/or organisation of feedback so it clearly highlights guidance on how to improve and encourages further effort.

Reduce the volume of feedback given to avoid the chance of ‘the signal being lost in the noise’.

The time lag between pupils completing a task and receiving feedback. Give feedback during lessons where possible, or as soon after the task is completed as possible.
The consistency of messaging to pupils about what constitutes high-quality work and/or progress.

Be clear about success criteria before pupils begin working. Include models of high-quality work, where possible.

Regular planning and review among all colleagues working with pupils to standardise and moderate expectations.

Impact on pupils’ learning. Reflect characteristics of high-quality feedback, as explored in week 4 of Module 4.

1. Practical exercise

Identify two contrasting occasions on which you have given feedback to your pupils over the last half term. Write brief notes that describe each occasion. There are two examples shown below – your statements will differ according to the phase and specialism in which you are teaching:

During a practical lesson in the workshop, I circulated around the room as pupils worked on cutting their wood pieces. I gave verbal feedback to each pupil as I observed their work. The main topics of feedback were health and safety, how well they were using tools, the quality of techniques used and reminding them of the objectives of the task.

The end of term assessment was a written test. I collected pupils’ books (already open at the page I needed to mark). I annotated each answer to highlight strengths and mistakes and then wrote a summative paragraph at the end of each test with the overall mark. I put a star by the question that pupils should focus on during improvement time. I gave back the books in the following lesson, and pupils had half an hour to read my feedback, re-draft the starred question and then do independent study to improve their knowledge of any topics that they didn’t get full marks on in the test.

2. Reflection / self-assessment

Now, evaluate these two occasions with a specific focus on how efficient the process was on each occasion. Use the details in the table above to help you think about the time taken and the impact on learning on each occasion.

As you reflect, you could ask yourself:

  • ‘how and why did I decide which forms of feedback were most appropriate in different situations?’
  • ‘what impact did these choices have on me in terms of the time taken to assess my pupils and give the feedback?’
  • ‘what impact did these choices have on my pupils in terms of the time taken to engage with, and act on, the feedback?’
  • ‘what impact did these choices have on the quality of learning for my pupils?’

Based on this activity, identify two key strengths in your approach to efficient assessment. Identify two actions that you will take going forward to make your approach to assessment even more efficient. Note these in your Learning Log, if you are using one.

3. Discuss with a colleague

Now that you have thought about efficiency in your own assessment practice, have a short discussion with a colleague about the strategies they use to make their assessment practice as efficient as possible.

Add to the notes in your Learning Log, if you are using one, any ideas that you gain from this discussion.

To help structure this discussion, you could ask:

  • ‘what strategies do you use to minimise the burden of assessment in your teaching?’
  • ‘what do you see as the strengths and challenges of these approaches?’

If you are not able to speak to a colleague with the required expertise, you can refer to the video resource that accompanies this session.

Next Steps: 5 mins

Be ready to share your reflections from this session and any notes that you have made in your Learning Log with your mentor in your next meeting with them. You will work with your mentor to continue to explore efficient approaches to assessment.