There’s One Thing Worse Than Green Pens

October 21, 2015

I’ve had further feedback on the green pen fad since I blogged and tweeted about it earlier. Apparently, many schools have schismed from the church of the green pen and follow instead the Purple Pen Of Progress.

I’m not joking. Mike Cladingbowl (formerly national director of OFSTED) suggested this as a joke:

But the Purple Pen of Progress is already a thing. Google it. After a correspondent suggested I do this, I did. And now I don’t know what to believe anymore.

Also, I found this:

May God have mercy on my soul.

Update 21/10/2015: As well as the former national director of OFSTED taking the mickey, we now have the current schools director not taking it entirely seriously:

Now please, does anyone here still think you are going to impress inspectors by enforcing the right shade of peer marking on your students? End the multi-colour madness.

(And even now I suspect some senior managers are asking: “If OFSTED don’t want to see purple pens for marking, then what do they expect us to do with them? Let’s ask a consultant.”)



  1. If only school leaders would have the balls just to do things because they’re right. Too many have become bureaucrats instead of genuine leaders.

  2. What about getting back to the basics of the red pen of reality? ;-)

  3. I found a link between green and purple! I was looking up the hexadecimal codes for shades of green eg http://www.color-hex.com/color/00ff00. I was wondering if any school leader would want to suggest different shades (the number for the shade could represent some form of grade/level). Then I noticed that the ‘complementary colour’ as they call it is #FF00FF. Guess what – this is purple! It’s at times like this when I realise that I am a genius.

    • Or someone avoiding marking by checking out hexadecimal codes for colours…

      • I was busy planning a computing lesson…
        No, it’s a fair cop

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. The OFSTED clarification translates as: “we’re just not impressed with this shit”. SLT still want it because:
    1) they can’t read between the lines
    2) they still think, despite OTSTED screaming “listen you dickheads, we’re just not impressed with this shit”, that they can get a decent grade for Leadership and Management by presenting a book scrutiny full of meaningless purple and green pseudo dialogue.
    3) they’re not leaders, they’re auditors who think that by ticking enough boxes marked ‘loads of purple and green’ they can look impressive despite OFSTED saying-IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS- “WE ARE NOT IMPRESSED WITH THIS SHIT”. For some reason, SLT think: “maybe what they really mean is we love that shit”.
    4) the Sutton Trust toolkit which gives pride of place to feedback…which is fair enough. But SLT, translate as: “we must have demonstrable evidence of feedback and response” ie. purple and green pen marking…despite OFSTED saying: “we want to see it in action” ie. verbal feedback in lessons…not multicolour marking; after all, they’ve said repeatedly: “WE’RE NOT IMPRESSED WITH THIS SHIT”
    5) maybe, despite countless research studies demonstrating that making teachers marking “deeply” for 15 hours per week, at the expense of planning and preparation of resources (ie. the bits you’d gladly do), is NOT REMOTELY EFFECTIVE, OFSTED will be impressed with it, despite OFSTED saying-IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS- “WE ARE NOT IMPRESSED WITH THIS SHIT”.
    6) basically, judging quality of feedback requires a decent level of subject knowledge, a nuanced approached and a degree of expererience and intelligence. It’s much easier to flick through an exercise book and take in a blur of purple and green.

    Marking is destroying teachers, turning the entire profession into a charnel house of clapped-out, demoralised drones and draining the joy and life out of everything. Planning and preparation-the bits you approach with enthusiasm and the reason you ever entered the profession-take a back seat…because if they don’t, you can’t be a good teacher…cos that relies on your books being a montage of purple and green.
    This is what it’s about. Once they get the message on multi-colour marking, they’ll have acquired a new, equally pointless obsession. They’re auditors remember…humanity and common sense have deserted them…they may not actually carry clipboards (iPads are apparently much more ‘cosy’) but, rest assured, there’s always a clip-board in their heart.

    • You make your point extremely clearly. I loved the repetition. I was left with no doubt as to the point you were making …you are probably a great teacher. (This is a genuine compliment and not written sarcastically)

      • Well thanks…but this infuriates me. We’ve got a whole-school marking policy which is taking over people’s lives.
        A ‘deep’ mark every 6 hours on every book and ‘just tick and flick’ the REST OF THE TIME’
        It’s making people ill. Naturally, this policy is the brainchild of people who have a load of about 100 pupil hours per week…16.7 books per week, ‘deep marked’. While there are some-same subject- with 580 pupil hours per week…about 95 books. Maths and English claim 10 minutes per book for a ‘deep mark’.
        950 minutes of marking per week is insanity. You can imagine the effect of staff’s planning, preparation, delivery and..without wanting to sound melodramatic…the quality of their relationships, personal lives, morale..ad infinitum. It’s pure f**kin insanity. And cruel and pointless. I’ve been teaching for a long time and in many ways this is the worst and most vindictive development I’ve seen.
        I think we’ve reached that tipping point where leadership positions are filled with those whose sole qualification was the burning ambition to get there. They’ve lied, cheated, back-stabbed, bull-shitted to get there and assume other people are the same…just not as good at it as them. When you explain to one of them that you give personalise differentiated feedback verbally, in person, with diagrams and resources on hand and an instant change of approach if required, they assume:

        1) he’s lying
        2) he’s just too lazy to mark
        3) he can’t prove it
        4) he’s trying to bullshit me

        But it’s true. I’ve even got a name for it: “teaching”. Something they know little about.

        As it happens, I don’t have a personal issue with green pens. This is going to sound conceited but, again, it’s true. I’m a Maths teacher and I’m good at it. I get good results. I mark, for about 4 or 5 hours per week in whatever colour I’ve got handy. When they ask for books I give them in. They give me feedback. I don’t know what they say, I don’t read it.

        When they instruct me to mark in purple I nod and then ignore them. When they threaten to put me on competency unless I comply, I tell them I’m resigning. They persuade me to stay.and I do so on the agreement that they stop hassling me. They forget this last condition every time they get a new idea and we go through the cycle again.

        Top Tip:

        To get these morons off your back become good, or even vaguely competent, at teaching Maths or Science or Languages but make sure you tell them you’re resigning immediately they try it on and be prepared to follow through. You may occasionally be out of work for about 2 hours but you’ll have a life.

        • Slight risk in resigning is that although there’s a shortage they’d probably find an NQT to replace me. If I was into conspiracy theories I would say that teachers in their 40s and above who are at the top of pay spine are a massive inconvenience to school budgets. Good luck to you. You have a good understanding of poor management. I am presently campaigning albeit quietly for senior staff to teach at least 25% and have ownership of at least one large class rather than just doing the odd lesson here and there. Then we could say show me YOUR books too

          • Yes. It is a risk; but as you say, a slight one. They know, given the shortage of Maths teachers-especially Maths teachers willing to teach in ‘difficult’ schools. That there is little chance they’ll replace me with anybody who’ll perform as well. (I’m aware that sounds arrogant but it’s factual.) So they have to weigh up the relative outcomes:
            1) Wind their necks in and stop hassling me but maintain good standards in Maths.
            2) Insist that their marking policy is followed and thereby take a hit in terms of :
            a) headline results in : P8 (double-weighted P8 subject); the overall % A*-C in English and Maths
            b) Behaviour and behaviour to support learning.
            So far, they’ve always taken option 1. I’m confident they will continue to do so and I have little doubt that I could be working in a different school tomorrow if it came to it.
            I can’t decide whether your responses indicate that you think Leadership teams generally believe that these sort of marking policies actually work. I doubt that they do. Why would they? Where is the evidence to suggest that they improve learning? I’m virtually certain that they came about under the previous inspection framework as a solution to evidencing feedback and response. As ever, the perceived answer was to artlessly ‘signpost’ a parody of effective feedback. I have a colleague with a particularly waggish year 11 who responded last week to a suggestion that he showed fuller working when solving simultaneous equations: ‘Thank you, I will definitely action your recommendations in future.’ ‘In future’ was significant since nobody is going to spend more than 6 hours on simultaneous equations and so the class had moved on and had no chance to ‘action’ anything.
            The whole thing is about back-covering for SLT. In an ideal world, the inspection framework would take teacher workload seriously and would condemn Leadership and Management for imposing wasteful, pointless, morale-destroying and psychologically-damaging policies. However, I don’t think green/purple pen marking covers anything. OFSTED claim that they want to witness feedback in person; artificial multi-coloured written conversations don’t achieve this, especially with less able students whose response is often only produced with help from the teacher who effectively finds themself spending hours giving feedback then wasting teaching time by responding to what they’ve written.
            I remember when I first heard about this phenomenon. Our then head of T&L (a particularly useless and unpleasant specimen) came back from ‘a course’ with the idea. She was incredibly excited and brushed aside all the reasonable and cogent objections with: ‘but how else will OFSTED know we give feedback?’ Several local schools adopted the practice at the same time, presumably as they had all been on the same course. I also believe that the practice emerged among English teachers where used judiciously, I hear it can be effective. This is what caused the problem for the following reasons:
            1) If something’s effective, SLT’s response is: let’s do much more of it and make it whole school. (In clear breach of common sense concerns about proportionality and differing pedagogical requirements across subjects. This is another example of a corporate philosophy favouring uniformity and consistency clashes with educational efficacy. SLTs will always take the corporate option.)
            2) It may just be me but I find that leaders of T&L are overwhelmingly from an English background and this is a major issue-again, possibly because I’m a Maths teacher. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve sat through CPD centred on the teaching and assessment of Act 3 of the Tempest and had my questions about the applicability to finding percentages blithely brushed aside with: ‘The principles are all the same, they apply everywhere’. Yet never do I see a piece of training on percentages back-engineered to cover Romeo and Juliet or Oxbow Lakes.
            3) It’s quick. Flick through a book. You’ll see how quick it is. Don’t forget that considerations over the quality of the written feedback depend upon the ability to make judgements about the quality and these are people whose judgement has led to this ludicrous policy in the first place and so has to be suspect.

  6. I’m pretty sure they don’t believe anything. We had a change of head (and style and ethos-not exactly an improvement so much as different) and existing leadership all simultaneously re-examined their fundamental beliefs and values and, by some miracle, landed on a new set virtually indistinguishable from the new head’s.
    “These are my opinions and if you don’t like them, I have others.”
    Leadership isn’t about judgements over truth or falsehood, efficacy or dysfunction, right or wrong and clearly not over contented teachers against clapped out wrecks.
    That kind of debate is for ‘other ranks’; those poor benighted souls who’ve yet to realise the job’s really about deciding which fashionable ideological posture brings most benefit then posing like a wannabe Big Brother contestant.

    No way North of there. The English thing’s pretty common and not necessarily a bad thing, though, generally, in practice…

  7. […] out against many of the practices that go on in their name (see the recent pens debacle here and here, my hatred for the word “Outstanding“, this response to a guardian secret teacher and […]

  8. […] with looking for particular things in lessons. Like triple marking (and the infamous green and purple pens). OFSTED were usually willing to say they weren’t looking for these things, but some […]

  9. […] this sort of “triple marking” or the multi-coloured pens it so often involves (see here) but that comment in the video is only going to encourage schools to introduce such policies. I […]

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