I have been inspired recently by huntingenglish.wordpress.com’s posts about marking. Marking, according to Geoff Petty’s meta-studies about what makes a difference to student performance, is one of the top ways of improving students’ grades (0.83 difference, which works out as almost two grades apparently!).

As I have said before, marking is something that takes time, especially in English. It can expand to fill the time allocated to it. Not only that, but I do not believe there is a necessarily across the UK the practice to mark for specific aspects (in that I wonder how much marking marks for ‘everything’). For example, I imagine it is common practice for exam students,  especially at this stage of the year, to write a timed essay at least once a week. My practice used to be to mark these essays for everything, and that a minimal amount of time was given for these students to respond to my marking. In other words, I gave maximum effort, for minimal returns. It is practice like this that makes teachers resentful of marking. This doesn’t need to happen.

Marking is also something that is not necessarily booked into regular slots. I have tried to book my marking into my PPA slots. However, it is often difficult to mark in such time periods. The school is a hub of busy activity, pastoral matters might require attention, and the general social wheels of a school need to run when people are actually in the same building. Therefore, marking in such times is useful (if it can be done) but marking for the entirety of that time is not something that can be relied upon.

Marking after school is sometimes useful. However, my options to do so are limited. Meetings are regularly held each Monday, and occasionally on Tuesday (for those with TLRs). Meeting with parents or carers occur after school, too. Finally, specific tuition or support of students occurs on some of these days. That, and I play football on Friday evenings, too.

Marking in the evenings is often a technique used, but the body and mind slow down at this point.

Marking on Sundays is my current practice. It is nearer to my planning time (Sunday) and gives me a clear run-up. However, I loathe to let marking build up.

Marking a homework (10 sentences) reading time 1 minute. Editing 30 seconds – 1 minute. comment 30 seconds – 1 minute?

Marking an essay reading time 1-2  minutes. Editing 1-2 minutes. Commenting 1-2 minute? 5 minutes.

CA reading time GCSE 3-5 minutes. Editing time 2-5 minutes. Commenting 3-5 minutes.

When to mark?

I think that the key thing with marking is knowing exactly what you are marking for, and when that marking is going to take place. At the very least, a number from the rubric – with a highlight to suggest where improvement should take place – is needed for a piece of work that requires improvement. Simply marking a piece of work is no good: students have to respond to that marking. Indeed, rapid progress English should be a cycle of work/mark/improve – leading to more work/mark/improve.

Further notes on 13th May 2014


Marking time has always been a bone of contention. A lack of innovation comes as part of marking: it deprioritises time to reflect on pedagogy. In addition, effective marking requires a whole-school push for students to get a true idea of effective diagnostic marking can be. In the meantime, two stars and a wish is good enough.

Marking can last forever. Maintainence is essential, as is a life. Therefore, having some kind of regular marking patterns is essential.

If you can, see the standard of marking on other subjects. I have seen all sorts: nothing but ticking; targets that merely refer to presentation; criteria based targets that are entirely generic.

Realistically, how long should a teacher spend on marking? I would say that, ideally, each class of books should be marked once per fortnight. In that time, the marking of a book would involve:

1) 1-2 category markings (a number from 1-4).
2) Tick acknowledgement of notes (with a double tick for especially sound work).
3) Spellings corrected in margin (and I usually complete all spellings of almost all students).
4) WWWT?s (What’s Wrong with This?) written as necessary.
5) A criteria-based positive comment to recognise achievements, and up to two criteria-based comments that require response. This is usually indicated via a footnote, too.
6) A video marking comment that guides the students to a self-directed video library from which they have to respond to a specific grammatical point of improvement.

For eight lessons in a fortnight, this can take from 2-5+ minutes per book when completed efficiently. Therefore for a class of 30, this takes anything from an hour to two-and-a-half hours. Ideally, this is completed between 60 minutes and 90 mins.

For exam classes, the main form of marking comes from timed essays. These are given specific criteria-based targets, and can be marked in different ways. Again, 3-10 minutes per essay is a standard time to read and to mark formatively: 90 minutes to five hours per class, per week.

On top of this you have test papers and coursework to mark. Coursework marking is actually fairly straightforward(!), but moderation is not: each coursework is 10 minutes per essay minimum; you can add another 5-15 minutes per essay for moderation, but at least time is spreadout amongst other staff. Either way, one batch of coursework essays can easily reach up to ten hours per class of thirty, and there are up to five batches of essays per cohort, the time for marking is demanding.

KS3 papers can themselves easily push 10-25 minutes per paper to mark. I prefer to mark a batch of questions for speed and moderation. But again, 90 students at even the quickest speeds takes 15 hours to mark.

Finally, bear in mind, too, that marking huge amounts of work formatively is an intellectually exhausting proposition. Marking, I believe, when completed diligently, takes a huge amount of intellectual effort and time. It is a true grind, and can easily be deprioritised by other aspects of the job. When teachers have to deal with extraordinary pastoral issues, the time to mark decreases tremendously, too. Weekends therefore become workdays, as they do in any job of worth.

Therefore, as teachers we need to acknowledge how long it takes to take. We need to acknowledge that 10 hours a week to mark on average is a healthy average (with exam class marking). From this, we need to acknowledge that not every piece of work should receive formative marking, and that summative marking in English is decidedly easy.

I will happily own the time I take to mark, the effects of my marking, and those who insist on extraordinary formatively marking for classbooks for most lessons. If the time is actually worked out, and it is made clear how a teacher is sometimes compelled to deprioritise other tasks that can benefit students to complete such marking, then perhaps sound judgements can be made for all.

At this point I should say that I am glad that my class sizes are not 30: these principles are especially important to those colleagues who do teach such huge numbers. Teaching such classes can have pleasing dynamics: marking for them rarely does!