A year ago, my school was consulting on a feedback policy and I had just joined Teaching Leaders as a Fellow. The Impact Initiative is a central part of the programme and I had decided to focus the outcome on improving levels of progress in year 10.
I was keen to harness the positive effect of feedback, and identified this as an area for focus. This has also had an impact on how we mark across the whole department. These are the key steps I undertook:
Align your vision with the school
Middle leaders have a responsibility for making whole-school vision and policy work in their own area. I wanted our marking policy to have the greatest impact on pupils, while still being aligned to whole-school principles. We started by asking ourselves what we needed from feedback. What did we want the outcomes to be? What kind of feedback and what frequency would allow pupils to achieve their personal best?
Answering these questions helped me to develop our policy and there are now two feedback points in every scheme of work – one purely formative half-way through the school year and one which also provides progress data at the end.
Creating easy-to-use systems will support your changes in practice and are key to their success. In this case, I needed systems to support both teachers and pupils. For pupils, new marking tokens were written which break assessments into discrete skills and encourage teachers to make a brief but meaningful comment on each one.
After both assessment points we have embedded “close the gap time" in schemes of work, where pupils work on their own specific targets. To support those who still struggle after intervention, we run a “close the gap clinic" which has easy referral systems. Recording successes after each intervention has also been made easy with simple changes to our reporting spreadsheets.
Embed your vision in your department
Setting up the new system just required good organisation, but embedding the marking vision across the department took more time. To start with, I set up a smaller guiding team who looked at the types of tasks pupils were undertaking in lessons. Low-impact activities were left out of our new key stage 3 schemes of work when they were replanned. Teachers were encouraged to mark only key activities. I asked staff to think about the impact their words had on the pupil every time they marked – the only type of feedback in books should be that which pupils can put into practice moving forward.
I used action agendas at department meetings to make sure that we focused on the important areas, and put marking on these agendas. A member of my team collected good examples of marking to share, and people were invited to bring their own. We pooled ideas that made our marking easier and trialled the best – the ones we thought would help pupils make the most progress. These will be evaluated and, if suitable, added to our marking policy by the end of this year.
Catch people doing good stuff
Through collaboration, my team has now built-up a huge bank of interventions that help to close the gap and can easily be tailored to individual pupils. To share this good practice further, I have found the best examples of the high-quality and creative actions my team has implemented that promote pupil progress through increasing their independence, resilience and effort. These are displayed on the office wall with the teacher's name so that people can seek further guidance if they wish. This sends a positive message to all team members and has the added bonus of reinforcing the vision.
Make feedback count for your team
When changing a practice you need to not only support your team, but also monitor them and check for consistency. Half-way through the year it became evident that the monitoring systems I had in place fitted our old ways of marking, but not the new. I needed to find a way of reinforcing exactly what was required from the team. They also needed feedback which could offer praise for their successes and would have an impact on their practice.
To do this, I rewrote the work-scrutiny document so that it demonstrated minimum marking standards with absolute clarity. Each time a teacher's books are monitored, they receive a copy of this which shows where their practice is successful and where their areas for development lie. Alongside this feedback, I provide a short written evaluation of their marking with targets, as it is just as important to recognise their achievements in this way as it is to set targets. This feedback often leads to coaching conversations which support and develop practice further.
As the year comes to an end, I will be evaluating how well these processes are working and making changes where necessary. I can see the positive changes in practice already and student voice has also been largely positive about the feedback pupils are now receiving.
Teaching LeadersTeaching Leaders is a middle leadership development programme for high-potential middle leaders, working in schools in challenging contexts. Applications for are now open at www.teachingleaders.org.uk
Sarah Taylor is head of English at The King's Academy in Middlesbrough.