Marking PP work first: a sticking plaster for a headache. 

Marking has been getting a lot of attention recently. And rightly so. It’s a huge part of what we do. For many of us, it’s the only thing we feel we can control. After all, ticks on a page don’t dick about when we’re not looking at them.

In this blog post I want to offer a critique of a marking gimmick which, given the national picture on the underachievement of PP students, is becoming increasingly proliferate.

Many schools, in an attempt to ‘close the gap’ (ugh) between PP students and ‘the rest of the cohort’ (ugh again) are offering the following solution:

To help boost the attainment of PP pupils, ensure that, when marking, you mark PP students’ books first.

The reasoning is simple: As time spent marking increases, quality of marking decreases. Therefore, PP students whose books are marked first will get, presumably, more detailed, more accurate feedback.
Of course, this is toxic thinking. Such a policy is wrong for a number of reasons:

Most dangerously, it implicitly suggests that teachers are marking unfairly. It suggests that teachers aren’t intelligent enough to combat the dangers of marking fatigue by spacing their marking to avoid the inevitable decrease in marking quality. I’d suggest that any school Leader that offers this ‘solution’ up as a reasonable response to PP underachievement, would be better off addressing the issue of marking fatigue: Why are teachers marking work at the bottom of the pile less well than work at the top? Why aren’t these teachers aware of the dangers of marking fatigue? What can you do to help teachers adjust their marking practice to prevent this from happening?

Of course, and as I’ve written about here there is the issue of teacher prejudice. There is a very real possibility that teachers, who tend to be more middle class than working class, approach PP work with unconscious prejudices that result in lower grades for PP students. But as I have suggested before, it’s not marking that needs to be targeted; it’s teacher attitudes.

This gimmick also suggests that PP students are deserving of a better educational experience than those who aren’t. Quite simply, it says that PP students deserve a higher quality of marking than non-PP students.
Thirdly, it condones the calculated neglect of the work of non-PP students: “They’re at the bottom of the pile so their work won’t be marked as good as those at the top and that’s okay.” It’s not okay.

Finally, PP funding is allocated on the basis of socio-economic factors. The PP budget is not assigned to students on the basis of the quality of their marking. It’s like prescribing a sticking plaster for a headache. Rather than asking teachers to mark PP work first, schools would be better spent addressing or investigating the real issues behind PP under-achievement. And I would suspect that quality of marking isn’t one of them.

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Author: PositivTeacha

Whole School Literacy Coordinator and Lead Practitioner

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