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Sponsored content: A marked improvement?

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The EEF looks at how better evidence could help to reduce teacher workload.

The Education Endowment Foundation is an independent charity dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational attainment. It funds rigorous evaluations of teaching and learning strategies that aim to raise pupils’ attainment. Their aim is to find out what is most likely to work effectively and support teachers and senior leaders to put that into action across the country.

For many teachers, the idea that their working day ends the minute they step outside school is laughable; evenings spent marking work and planning lessons at home are all too often just part of the job. A study last year found that teachers are more likely to work unpaid overtime than staff in any other industry (Trades Union Congress, 2016).

For a profession in the midst of a recruitment and retention crisis, this isn’t a great advertisement for a healthy work-life balance.

Marking is one of the most contentious issues in the debate around teacher workload. Over half of the 44,000 respondents to the Department for Education’s 2014 Workload Challenge said the reform of marking policies was the highest priority for decreasing their unsustainable workloads. The increased use of high-intensity strategies such as triple-marking, and the huge amount of time currently invested in marking are almost certainly having an adverse effect on teachers’ morale. When you consider that the typical teacher will spend nine hours each week marking their pupils’ work, this is no surprise (DfE, 2015).

To what extent is this enormous effort actually having a positive impact on pupil progress? The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) commissioned researchers at the University of Oxford to review the existing evidence on marking to find evidence that would inform teachers’ decision-making about marking and how to use their time in the most effective ways.

Doubtful outcomes

What this research revealed is a significant disparity between the enormous amount of effort teachers invest in marking and the evidence available to tell them which marking approaches are most likely to work and which are not. Alarmingly, considering the importance of feedback to pupils’ progress, they found there have been very few large-scale and robust studies that have looked at the impact of written marking.

Put simply, we just don’t know whether or not the time teachers are spending on marking is having a positive effect on pupil outcomes.

To find out more about how teachers are marking work, the EEF commissioned a national survey through the National Foundation for Educational Research’s (NFER) Teacher Voice Omnibus. What we found is that teachers are combining a number of different approaches to cover the multiple purposes of marking pupils’ work, including monitoring progress, planning future lessons, and school reporting. This suggests that teachers are not replacing new strategies with old, but layering on additional strategies to meet perceived expectations, adding to their overall marking workload.

For example, when asked about 10 marking strategies, almost three-quarters (72 per cent) reported that they wrote targets for improvement on all or most pieces of work they mark. However we found that this approach hasn’t replaced identifying and correcting errors, a more traditional approach to marking, which more than half (52%) of teachers said they did on all or most pieces of work they mark.

Constructive feedback

Research reviewed in our Teaching and Learning Toolkit suggests that the provision of high-quality feedback can lead to an average of eight additional months’ progress over the course of a year. So what can senior and middle leaders do to ensure teachers in their school are providing constructive and useful feedback to their pupils through marking?

Rather than relentlessly pursuing unproven and unsustainable approaches, a guiding principle might be to mark less, but mark better, informed by what the evidence tells us so far is likely to have the most impact. Instead of looking to ideological debates to find a solution, we need to be guided by robust research.

This is why the EEF has committed £2m to fund research to find out what are the most time-effective marking strategies. As part of this, we’re currently recruiting 100 secondary schools to take part in a trial that will find out if removing grades in marked schoolwork and replacing them with targeted and actionable feedback can help boost English GCSE results and reduce teacher workload. This approach to marking, developed by Meols Cop High School in Southport, translates the skills required to access top band grades at GCSE English and English Literature into codes.

Testing the impact on student outcomes of different approaches will give teachers and senior leaders a much clearer picture of what effective marking looks like. We’re always interested to hear from schools, universities, and other organisations that have developed high-potential approaches to marking that we can trial across large numbers of schools.

But until we have a better idea about which marking strategies are the most effective, is it so radical to allow our teachers a better work-life balance? Doing so could just lead to a happier, healthier and more content workforce.

Further reading

– EEF’s review of the evidence on marking can be found at:

  • Schools interested in taking part in the FLASH Marking trial can sign up at:
  • All of the EEF’s evidence on feedback and monitoring pupil progress is collected together in the school theme page:



Department for Education (2015) Workload challenge: Analysis of teacher consultation responses. Available at: (accessed 29 August 2017).

Trades Union Congress (2016) Workers in the UK put in £31.5billion of unpaid overtime a year. Available at:
workplace-issues/workers-uk-put-£315billion (accessed 29 August 2017).

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      Author(s): Bill Lucas