Saturday, 17 April 2021

No. No. Na. Na. No. No. Na. Na. No More Marking

I have been asked a few times about my experience of using No More Marking, so I thought I’d share my current experiences of it as a teacher and a head of a department.

We started using No More Marking as a department last year and we are no means experts on using the system, but we are probably far more down the line than some schools. If you want an explanation of the process, my best advice is to go to the actual website. There you will find a complete explanation of the system and process. This blog is more about the practical aspect of running No More Marking within a department and some of, what I perceive to be, the benefits of the process.  


[1] Changed the attitude of students

One of the problems we have in English is the amount of marking for mocks. It kills us. I know of some schools that set four English mock exams before Christmas and then another four after Easter. Therefore, teachers end up marking eight papers over the read and that’s not including any day-to-day marking.

We set up to use the GCSE component with our current Year 10s and Year 11s. The component then has a set question each term. Term 1 – Q5 Paper 1. Term 2 – Q4 Paper 1. You get the idea. We’d teach as normal and then for each term we’d set a few lessons preparing students for the assessments. Then, we’d do the assessment in a lesson.

We noticed that students treated the NMM assessments differently. They were more focused and determined to do well. The whole process for us changed the way students viewed assessments in English. We were transparent from the start that their own teachers were not forming a judgement and marking their work. That somehow transformed how the students viewed the work. It wasn’t their own teacher they had do convince, but an unknow entity – just like an examiner. It de-personalised the process and became a bit more formal.  

It also changed the structure of the year for us. Students were regularly completing mock elements rather than big mock exams. The pressure was spread over the year for teachers and for students. It meant that for mocks we were able to put emphasis on reading sections or particular questions rather than do a full exam. We’d still do some full papers for the experience, but not all the time.

Oh and the fact that the paper has their name printed on it makes them treat it differently. Amazing what a bit of paper can do.


[2] It gave us a wider picture of responses

Exam marking is largely one of the best CPD processes you can complete. The main reason for that is that you see the full spread of responses. You do not get that when you mark thirty exam papers. You see what the spread of responses for thirty students is like, but you do not scratch the surface of what a whole cohort achieves. When marking, you only know your top student is good based on your narrow field of 30. That is largely problematic. That understanding of the wider picture is really hard to share with a department. Moderation helps with this, but we don’t have time or the resources to do this.

The No More Marking process really helps build this understanding. When judging, teachers were looking all levels of responses and they were making judgements on the whole cohort rather than their class. And, it is eye opening. It is far easier to see what is good, bad and average. Plus, you get a more nuanced understanding of all the different ways to get really good.   

After the process, I am able to go back to the class and be quite clear what makes a response good, bad or average. My understanding is based on 140 or more responses rather than the 30 responses in a class. We’ve all been there where we have struggled to explain what a student needs to do to improve. That is often because we haven’t had enough experience of the level to accurately say what a student needs to do.


[3] Bye bye bias

Interestingly, as the process continued we noticed that boys were scoring higher than normal. As a school, we often have some boys ‘pull it out of the bag’ in the final GCSE exams, but the process showed us that actually the boys were producing far better than expected. Therefore, if we are honest, there may have been some bias in the way we have marked. Further investigation showed us that these boys tended to be very direct with explanation rather than very detailed, which could have been one of the factors for the bias.

Bias is something we must actively work to address, but the process anonymises the students and so builds that protection against bias. It stops teachers being generous for a student who doesn’t normally write that much and they have written pages for this one assessment. It stops teachers being cautious and harsher on the marking of a student because they expect more from them.

Admittedly, we can still have bias based on handwriting and that’s something we have to work on.    


[4] Rank orders

The No More Marking Process generates a lot of data for schools, but, more importantly for me, it helps you to rank order whole cohorts. We don’t share the rank order with students for obvious reasons, but they help you understand where a student is in relation to their peers. You then understand where they are on a continuum. You can even allocate grades to specific percentages of the rank order. Or, you can see what is average, above average and below average.

We have decided to use the free No More Marking system to assessment a piece of writing in each year group in KS3. That rank order will then be used for comparisons year on year. We’ll be using it then to see who has improved or declined from year to year. It will also highlight to us the students not in a position we’d expect them to be. If they are position 102, yet they should be in the top 5% we can see there’s an issue. That needs investigating.

For too long, we have fudged things up with GCSE grades at KS3. The rank order for me is the most important piece of data. It is a relational piece of data. It shows you where a student is in relation to their peers.  That is important data. Are they where they should be? That’s much better than saying students are aiming for a 4. A grade 4 that can change from year to year and from exam paper to exam paper.


[5] Marking

I think sometimes teacher equate marking to love. The more the mark a class’s work, the more they love that class. The ‘no marking’ bit of No More Marking is the bit that some teachers struggle with. In some bizarre way they want to mark the work. They want to write a mini letter at the end of the assessment.

We use No More Marking for some Year 10, all Year 11 and a writing tasks in Year 7,8 and 9. We don’t give specific feedback for those pieces of work. We produce, thanks to a mail merge, a document with their grade, the score, their previous grades and scores, and in Year 11 we tell them if their rank position has changed or not. That’s what they get. A bit like an exam. You don’t get a little note from the examiner about how they really liked your story idea even though you scored a Grade 2 overall on the paper.

We put too much stock in marking. If a student acted on every comment I wrote on a piece of marking, I’d be convinced it works. It doesn’t. A lot of marking is nice relationship building stuff and not acted on advice.

Each assessment we give students a feedback sheet. We point out the things that students need to do next time and the things they need to avoid. We also share two good examples with the class for us to analyse and explore why they were the best.  If a student wants specific advice, then we can share a link to their work and discuss what they need to do.   

Initially, I was a bit worried or reducing the amount of feedback, thinking parents would complain. They haven’t and, actually, the way we’ve structured it in Year 11 has helped students. Each question completed they have a grade, good examples and advice on what to do and what not to do. If the exams did go ahead this year, then they’d be in quite a good position.


[6] CPD  

The CPD element of No More Marking has a lot of potential and I think it is something curriculum leaders can work on.

On each assessment, you can see the pieces of work that teachers didn’t all agree with. That for me is brilliant to see the problem points in marking. Why don’t all the teachers agree with the judgement of this piece? Are they all looking for the same things? That’s what I am going to use the summer term to look at. The problem pieces. Print them out and use them as a discussion piece. Get to the heart of disagreements.

The other interesting thing is about teacher accuracy. Of course, this needs to be handled sensitively and appropriately, but what the system tells you is about the accuracy of teachers’ marking for each question. Therefore, it shows you, as a curriculum leader, who needs support on the marking of Q5 or who needs support on Q4. It could be something simple like the teacher is looking for something different to other teachers. That’s where the problem pieces come in. They are your starting point for discussions. What are you looking for when you mark this question?

Furthermore, the system gives you exemplar answers for each question, which gives you ample materials to work through.


Hopefully, that gives you an overview of how we are using No More Marking in our department. I assure you that I am not on commission for this blog. I thought it would be useful for some to see how we are using it and some of the approaches we have take. My last thing would be to give some key questions to ask any head of department or leader:

·       How is it going to be structured in the curriculum? It isn’t an add-on. Something must go!

·       Who is going to take ownership? Someone will need to deal with the feedback process.

·       How will the department adapt their teaching based on the process?

There is a big danger of doing No More Marking for everything. We thought we’d do the GCSE component for both Year 10 and 11. Marking all the 10s and 11s at the same time was tough. So, we opted for Year 11 for Terms 1 to 5. Then, we start Year 10 with the process in Term 6. The only other NMM we are doing are a written piece in Year 7,8 and 9. Remember: we need to teach students so endless assessments are not going to help. We are doing one writing assessment a year so that can track their development over the years rather than in a year.

Feel free to message me on Twitter if you have any further questions.

Thanks for reading,


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