Marking shortcuts to reduce teacher workload

The national picture towards marking has drastically changed since I first wrote Is Written Feedback a Waste of Time?. Gone are the days (I hope) of triple marking, unrealistic marking deadlines and the threat of Ofsted.

I could not think of any form of feedback that wastes such an enormous amount of resources as being expected to write full comments with a date with a teacher signature to show an evidence trail. Now consider this with the backdrop of a policy that expects all books to be marked daily in primary school or every two weeks in secondary schools. It is inevitable that this would lead to exhaustion, anxiety and long hours searching for new jobs on TES or considering leaving the profession.

Can you imagine being a one period a week subject like religious studies? These poor teachers may have 15 classes with an average of 25 students. Even if it took a mere three minutes to read a pupil’s work and provide a written comment that would take nearly 19 hours of marking every fortnight.

Does extensive written impact improve pupil progress? Well, according to the Oxford research review A Marked Improvement? it is minimum (basically none at all considering the vast amount of energy and time that is dedicated to it with little return).

And, and this is a big AND – Ofsted do not expect any type, frequency or volume of marking. It is clear in their myths sections, nonetheless it is still very common to hear “But Ofsted want to see this” or “Sure, we know that but we are requires improvement, therefore Ofsted will want to see marking”. And I get it too. Until Ofsted are seen by schools to truly not form an opinion about marking, than fear will continue to perpetuate time killing marking practices.

But marking is still important, right?

Of course, but there are many low intensity, high impact strategies that can help you adapt teaching to get the most out of pupils.

Here are five quick marking shortcuts that have worked for me that can make an impact now whilst significantly reducing your workload.

Whole class feedback

For me, whole class feedback eliminates two marking wastes.

First, when you are marking and you start to realise that you are repeating the same line or two of feedback for every student. This should be a big, flashing red light. It is clear that not only one pupil is struggling but the whole class.

I simply write down the concept or skill that the majority of pupils are finding difficult and that is my starter next lesson. I immediately address the issue to the whole class. But what about the pupils who got it right, is this not wasting their time? No, if anything it will reinforce the learning in their long term memories.

Second, is when teaching in the classroom. We all know the scenario, you start the class on a task but within seconds the hands begin to go up. After a few questions you begin to realise that they are all asking the same question. There is no need to go on and individually tell everyone the same thing. Just stop the whole class and readdress the issue to curb future errors – marking complete.

Low stakes testing

Saying the word “test” conjures an image of stressed teachers and pupils but studies show that frequent low stakes testing can improve long term memory but, for the sake of marking, it is quick and easy to test pupil progress.

I start or end most lessons with a quiz. Quizzes can be short, easy to mark (or have the pupils mark them) but the insight they provide can have a big impact. Simple short-answer or multiple-choice questions can quickly identify pupil knowledge gaps or misconceptions. Now I can quickly adapt my planning for the lesson or subsequent lessons to address the need without hours of marking.

Live marking

There appears to be this common belief in teaching that marking is a home task. I remember packing my car daily with books to spend the night reading and writing away. It’s in our teaching DNA but it does not help with work life balance. So, instead, mark in lesson – live marking.

I have read of many forms of live marking and they all pretty much do the same thing. Feedback is provided to pupils during lessons, pupils respond to the feedback – marking done.

At my school I introduced dot rounds (green dots to be precise). The idea for this shortcut is to simply place a dot in the margin where a misconceptions or issue may be on the page and then walk away.

Pupils should be working harder than you. Simply walking away forces pupils to analyse their work or look back at previous learning to find a solution.

Verbal feedback

Just say it! More than likely your feedback will be concise and more articulate than having to write it out. Even better, a proper conversation between you and the pupils has taken place – not a back and forth colour wheel taking place in the pupil’s exercise book.

Just say it! There is no need to use a verbal feedback stamp or date and sign when you have verbal feedback. It’s pointless and time wasting that adds absolutely no value to pupil learning.


Sharing with pupils a model of what an exceptional piece of work looks like provides them with a clear framework to support self or peer assessment marking. Models can be worked-examples, success criteria or you writing with the pupils. Pupils are then expected to compare and analyse their work with the models and then make the appropriate changes.

Or use the pupil’s work as the models. The quality of peer assessment can be tricky but opening dialogue to the class about how to improve and discussing why (in a kind way) can provide pupils with good feedback. It shows them that excellent work is happening in their classroom, not just in textbooks.