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Making marking manageable in a secondary class

Written By: Jodie Lomax
4 min read

This case study is written by Jodie Lomax, a secondary school Religious Studies teacher. 

As you read this case study, reflect on how the teacher has considered possible marking approaches before selecting and making use of one. Take some time to think about what the teacher does, how they do it, what they might do differently and how this might influence your own practice. 


When I started teaching in 2010, dialogic marking was prevalent. Dialogic marking, otherwise known as ‘triple impact marking’, involves the teacher writing their feedback about the students work, followed by the student responding to the feedback. This dialogue was nicely finished off when the teacher then revisited that same piece of work and responded to the student’s response. The thought process behind this onerous and burdensome feedback strategy is that what the teacher has written on the student’s work, should, in theory, improve the student’s learning (Wiliam 2016). 

Despite the conversational element that came with dialogic marking, for me, the process became extremely cumbersome.  I found that the students did not use the feedback to improve the quality of subsequent work that they completed.  This is likely because ‘as many studies have shown, students often learn less when teachers provide written feedback than they do when the teacher writes nothing’ (Kluger & DeNisi 1996, cited in Wiliam 2016). Thankfully, over the last few years, many school leaders have worked tirelessly to reduce unnecessary workload burdens and we have seen the emergence of more sensible, manageable and meaningful feedback and marking policies (EEF 2016). 

Some feedback strategies that emerged in a bid to reduce teachers’ workload (DfE, 2014) include:


Whole class feedback

This strategy involves the teacher recording their feedback centrally (rather than directly into student books), often on a template and using this as a key driver in a feedback lesson. More information about this strategy can be found here.


Dot Marking

This strategy involves the teacher using a series of coloured dots, with each coloured dot corresponding to a particular target. Victoria Hewitt (@MrsHumanities) writes more about Dot Marking here.


Marking codes

Similar to dot marking, this strategy involves students being given a list of codes, either letters or numbers, that correspond to a particular strength or target. As a teacher of Religious Education, it is not uncommon to have in excess of twelve different classes each academic year. Using marking codes has reduced the burden of marking significantly whilst providing a way of giving students purposeful and meaningful feedback in a timely and efficient manner. 


How I use marking codes to reduce the marking burden

All students are given the list of marking codes (example KS3 and KS4 marking codes shown in the pictures) at the start of the year and these are glued into the front of their books. As this strategy has now been used consistently for a number of years, students are confident in using the codes effectively to improve their work. 

The marking codes are used in a variety of ways:

  • Used in combination with a tick to identify strengths
  • Used in combination with a ‘T’ to identify areas to develop
  • Self-assessment to identify strengths and areas to develop
  • Peer-assessment to identify strengths and areas to develop
  • To assess modelled answers

Using marking codes in this way ensures that there is a critical focus on students understanding their strengths whilst providing them with clear and consistent strategies that can be applied to improve their work. Furthermore, because it takes so little time to use the marking codes effectively, it means that additional comments can be written that relate specifically to the task in question that can directly challenge misconceptions and mistakes without this being excessively burdensome. This is important because ‘careless mistakes should be marked differently to errors resulting from misunderstanding. The latter may be best addressed by providing hints or questions which lead pupils to underlying principles; the former by simply marking the mistake as incorrect, without giving the right answer’ (EEF 2016).


Example marking codes








Example of codes being used to peer assess homework.












The marking code system is so deeply embedded into the departmental policy that most students are highly proficient at understanding and applying the feedback in order to improve their work with much less support from me. Students are also able to support each other more effectively in the feedback process through manageable and meaningful peer assessment because they have a more confident understanding of the core subject knowledge and skills needed to progress. This means that I now have more time to spend with the students who need my immediate support the most. Students are also able to recognise that feedback provided in my subject can support their development across the curriculum, for example, forming a balancing argument through evaluation and analysis.



Education Endowment Foundation (2016) A Marked Improvement? A review of the evidence on written marking. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/public/files/Presentations/Publications/EEF_Marking_Review_April_2016.pdf (accessed 10th April 2020).

Gibson S, Oliver L and Dennison M (2015) Workload Challenge: Analysis of teacher consultation responses. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/401406/RR445_-_Workload_Challenge_-_Analysis_of_teacher_consultation_responses_FINAL.pdf (accessed on 10th April 2020).

Wiliam D (2016) The secret of effective feedback. Educational Leadership 73(7): 10-15. Available at: http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr16/vol73/num07/The-Secret-of-Effective-Feedback.aspx (accessed 10th April 2020).


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