• The Workload Challenge

    The Workload Challenge

    Eight teachers across five schools stopped marking for two terms. How did they do it? What happened to their workload? What happened to pupil progress?

    Background and context

    In March 2016, the Department for Education published Eliminating Unnecessary Workload Around Marking, a report of the Independent Teacher Workload Review Group. The report argued that much current marking practice was overly burdensome, without a proportional impact on pupil outcomes. It advocated for marking to be: Meaningful, Manageable and Motivating.

    Then in April 2016, the EEF published its review of the research on written marking: A Marked Improvement. A key finding of the review was that ‘The quality of existing evidence focused specifically on written marking is low’.

    In September 2016, the National College of Teaching and Leadership invited groups of schools to apply for funding to carry out research into effective marking practices. Southwark Teaching School Alliance was successful in its application and from January to June 2017, eight teachers in five schools across the borough participated in a project exploring the impact on both teacher workload and pupil outcomes of moving away from written marking towards verbal feedback.

    The intervention

    The study explored how to reduce the burden of written marking, through: Increased and more effective use of self and peer assessment. Children were explicitly taught how to assess their own and others work effectively and how to give effective feedback, including input on Growth Mindset strategies.

    Conferencing and verbal feedback instead of written marking. Teachers were asked not to write in children’s books at all during the intervention. All feedback was given verbally, either whole class, in small groups or one to one.

    The aim was not only to reduce teacher workload, but to make it more purposeful; to use the time after school previously spent on marking books to plan lessons and interventions in response to children’s work.


    The Institute of Education conducted the project evaluation, assessing the impact of the intervention on both teacher workload and pupil outcomes through entry and exit teacher questionnaires and pupil progress data.


    The final project report, Mark Less Mark Better, was published in March 2018. Findings demonstrated that teachers in the intervention groups spent on average 3.45 hours a week less on marking than teachers in the control groups, with no measurable difference in pupil outcomes between the two groups.

    Free How-to guide

    Read our “free guide to the ‘no-marking’ strategies used by the teachers”Mark Less Mark Better . This guide sets out the ‘how-to’ of marking less but marking better, with references to the published research underpinning the practice.

    Do it yourself

    Get in touch to find out how to reduce marking and workload in your own school, whilst maintaining high quality learning.