OFSTED and triple-marking

April 11, 2018

I’ve written a couple of posts recently about OFSTED (What OFSTED still needs to do and OFSTED and Workload) which brought up the issue of workload. I identified two problems in particular that relate to marking. Firstly, OFSTED look to see if school policies are being followed consistently, even if those policies add to workload. Secondly, OFSTED inspectors look for evidence of students responding to feedback. As a result schools are introducing marking policies that involve teachers having to elicit responses from students when they mark books, then mark those responses. This is often referred to as “triple marking” (as the same piece of work may be visited three times).

While “triple-marking” is not necessarily a bad thing – teachers will legitimately want to help students draft and redraft work on some occasions – having to mark this way consistently has workload implications. Also, for such marking to happen consistently, teachers will have to carry out this process even where they see no benefit for their students. I have seen this happen in multiple schools, and, unlike some fads, it is not simply being done by the worst managers. Even managers who really care about workload and are doing everything they can to make the process easier, are still feeling obliged to introduce such policies because they expect inspectors to be looking for responses to feedback.

According to the blogpost about triple-marking I linked to above (and partially confirmed by the photo caption on this article) at one point OFSTED had clarified this matter and said:

Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books will often depend on the age and ability of the pupils.

Ofsted does not expect to see unnecessary or extensive written dialogue between teachers and pupils in exercise books and folders. Ofsted recognises the importance of different forms of feedback and inspectors will look at how these are used to promote learning. [My emphasis]

However, more recent versions of the mythbusting guidance just say:

Ofsted does not expect to see a particular frequency or quantity of work in pupils’ books or folders. Ofsted recognises that the amount of work in books and folders will depend on the subject being studied and the age and ability of the pupils.

Ofsted recognises that marking and feedback to pupils, both written and oral, are important aspects of assessment. However, Ofsted does not expect to see any specific frequency, type or volume of marking and feedback; these are for the school to decide through its assessment policy. Marking and feedback should be consistent with that policy, which may cater for different subjects and different age groups of pupils in different ways, in order to be effective and efficient in promoting learning.

This redraft seems to have replaced a clear statement that triple marking is not necessary with one that emphasises consistency with a policy, and scrutiny of the effectiveness of feedback, which would explain why schools seem to have gone backwards on this issue.

I raised the issue of marking recently on Twitter after I read that education secretary Damian Hinds had called for an end to triple marking. This began a dialogue with Sean Harford OFSTED’s national director of education, which I will reproduce below:

Andrew Old: As long as OFSTED look for evidence of a consistent marking policy *and* students responding to feedback it will continue.

Sean Harford: It’s up to schools to have a sensible assessment policy: inspectors inspect against the policy Andrew. If schools carry on with triple marking policies then that’s what inspectors will look at. Nobody at Ofsted looking for triple marking.

Andrew Old: But you look for evidence of students responding to feedback don’t you?

Sean Harford: Not necessarily written feedback – see para 163 of the handbook, fifth bullet point. That could be ascertained by talking to pupils and teachers.

Andrew Old: But inspectors will be looking for it in books too, won’t they?

Sean Harford: Not necessarily; that depends on the school’s assessment policy.

Andrew Old: So inspectors won’t be looking in books for kids responding to feedback *unless* the policy implies that’s where it is to be found? And there should be no disadvantage in not making that part of the policy?

Sean Harford: Absolutely.

The bullet point Sean referred to is in a section that begins:

Inspectors will make a judgement on the effectiveness of teaching, learning and assessment in schools by evaluating the extent to which:

And then lists a number of bullet points, including the one Sean pointed out:

assessment information is used to plan appropriate teaching and learning strategies, including to identify pupils who are falling behind in their learning or who need additional support, enabling pupils to make good progress and achieve well

I think the problem lies in the very next bullet point:

except in the case of the very young, pupils understand how to improve as a result of useful feedback, written or oral, from teachers

When I had the Twitter conversation, I was delighted; the agreement that “there should be no disadvantage” to schools that are not triple-marking was particularly welcome. That said, it is still going to be down to schools to come up with and enforce marking and feedback policies that fit what OFSTED want when they judge the extent to which “pupils understand how to improve as a result of useful feedback”. While I can be happy that this doesn’t have to be “triple-marking”, I don’t think I know what that would look like.


  1. And thus the problem with marking and feedback everywhere: it needs to be done, and students need to know how to improve, but the question is how best to show this is happening at more than a trivial level. One way of doing this would be to interview a bunch of *reliable* students to ask them, but I guess inspectors are too busy for this to happen, and teachers would (quite rightly) grump at Y11, 12 and 13 students being removed from classes in the run up to exams. Must be said, I’m very glad to have left State system this year, but triple marking is starting to rear its head in my new school….

    • Why do we need to show that is happening.

      If I give excellent feedback that is unknown — verbal or on the board — am I teaching badly?

      Educationalists go on about not letting assessment issues drive learning. “Teaching to the test” is one of the great sins. Yet teachers are assessed on the basis of a poor proxy of actual feedback, and are urged by poor managers to “feedback to the assessment”.

      I see very little value in delayed written assessment in Maths. By the time they get it the damage is done.

      • Interesting comment, feedback is by its nature ephemeral and time and location specific. So whilst you know your feedback is excellent, there would be no record of it, and thus your own excellence would be invisible and unknown.
        One thing I do is get the students to write an “as a result of feedback I need to / I will…” statement which whilst my words my have evaporated shows that they have been told to do something. For GCSE classes, after a test they have to do a rewrite of the six marker essay question, again using the feedback given to them in class to help them do so. This, being a homework, can be legitimately set and marked as such, and it will be obvious whether they have taken the feedback on board or not. Clearly if they have not further intervention can be set, including to parents through reports and parent evenings.
        Back in the day, “feedback” used to be called “doing your corrections under the guidance of your teacher”, and I think policies need to be set today which reflect this.

        • I think it’s the “showing” that’s the issue. The need to show shapes the feedback rather than what the students need in order to learn.

          • Yup. It’s the argument I had with folk in my previous schools. Last school had a range of coloured pens to show different marking and feedback. Madness.

  2. Two things stand out here: first, the marking problem involves pupils’ writing, which is very much a higher-order skill. Two, pupils are expected to use feedback to improve their work.

    For all that education in England fetishes writing skills and attempts to foster them from Reception onward, our students are remarkably poor writers on a whole. From what I’ve seen of it recently, just being able to write a sentence without a spelling or grammar error is beyond most; sadly, I doubt that the new emphasis on these will make much difference until we stop making children write their little stories in KS1, when all they are doing is setting bad habits in aspic.

    Secondly, even the most detailed feedback is what Kirschner, Sweller and Clark would call ‘minimally guided instruction’. And we are putting the onus on the child–whose motivation is often indifferent, to put it mildly–to use it to improve, when in fact the time would be far better spent teaching children the declarative and procedural knowledge that are absolutely essential to writing anything worth reading.

  3. […] https://teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/ofsted-and-triple-marking/ — Read on teachingbattleground.wordpress.com/2018/04/11/ofsted-and-triple-marking/ […]

  4. Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  5. […] OFSTED and triple-marking […]

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