Reflections on Michaela: Seriously, no marking?!

George Coles
May 25 · 3 min read

When observing lessons at Michaela, I was keen to examine students’ work in books. I made 3 immediate observations: firstly, the work was presented immaculately; secondly, the sheer volume of work achieved within a lesson was impressive and finally and most interestingly, there were no teacher comments at all!

At Michaela teachers do not mark books. Marking is seen as harmful to teachers’ workload and wellbeing and it is considered damaging to pupil progress. They believe that marking holds pupils back as teachers have to make the effort to find and correct mistakes. This diminishes the students’ responsibility to read, check and improve their work for themselves. A further pitfall is that when a teacher marks books, it could be a few days before the student encounters the feedback. This presents the added challenge of having to revisit that paragraph or sum and try to remember what they were learning in order to action the feedback.

I am happy to say, I work in a school where marking is realistic. As a Curriculum Area Leader, I am given a strong degree of professional autonomy to approach marking in a way that is appropriate to the subjects I lead. However, it is fair to say that marking has gotten out of hand for many colleagues. The fact that Ofsted had to publish a myth-busting document demonstrates the point.

I know colleagues in other schools, where every single piece of work is marked, sometimes up to three times in a rainbow of coloured pens, stickers or stamps!

Visiting Michaela made me consider the impact of cutting our marking load even further by scrapping it altogether.

Whilst books are unmarked at Michaela that certainly does not mean that students’ work is ignored; energy is focused on re-teaching and in-class feedback.

Re-teaching

I recently spent the weekend marking a set of GCSE Drama mock papers. After hours of writing individual comments, I decided to reflect and look back at what I had written. On almost all papers the comments were variations on the same points: ‘provide more detail’, ‘explain your rationale’, ‘why?’, ‘what is the impact of this?’, ‘link to context’. More often than not, students make the same misconceptions.

At Michaela, teachers rigorously seek issues that require work and will then use them as the starting point for further instruction. They will assign students a mark or grade for their work and then the feedback begins in the classroom. Once the teacher has explained the misconception students revisit their own work. Students individually identify where they worked well and how they need to improve based on the whole class feedback. I saw this in action and was impressed by how students were taking such responsibility for their own improvement. As intended, the weight of responsibility shifts from the teacher to the student in a way that significantly reduces teacher workload whilst improving independent learning.

In-class feedback

The second strategy, in-class feedback, is where teachers can provide intervention to students at the point of writing. This assumes that behaviour is good enough to facilitate students writing silently as the teacher circulates the room. The teacher can take a student’s work and share it with the rest of the class. They might use work as an exemplar to highlight good practice or they could take a piece requiring revisions, asking the rest of the class for feedback which, in turn, encourages students to consider their own work.

With so many factors influencing teacher workload and wellbeing, it is surely time to have a proper conversation about marking.

George Coles

Head of Expressive Arts at a secondary school in Nottingham | External Subject Expert (Drama), Ofqual | MA Education, University of Nottingham

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