What they say... OFSTED

"Inspection reports continue to identify weaknesses in assessment in English. Last year’s subject report commented on gaps in teachers’ subject knowledge and the impact this sometimes has on the use of assessment information.1 This remains an issue for development, although recent nationally produced guidance on assessment for learning should help teachers.2
Despite a great deal of work by schools on assessment over recent years, too many pupils do not understand sufficiently well how they can improve their work in English. There are several reasons for this. First, the quality of teachers’ marking varies too much. At its best, marking is thorough, with supportive comments that build up pupils’ confidence and clearly identify specific areas for improvement. However, too many teachers rely on indiscriminate praise which fails to tell pupils how they can improve. In addition, too few schools have a clear policy on correcting errors in pupils’ work. Consequently, some teachers identify all mistakes, some almost none, and it is rarely made clear to pupils how they should respond to this identification of errors. In these circumstances, teachers’ corrections have no immediate impact and are not followed up. Recent Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) guidance on marking tackles these issues directly.3
Schools also need to consider the marking of work in other areas of the curriculum, which is generally less effective than in English. The variability of individual teachers’ marking of writing across a range of subjects can be confusing to pupils, who find certain errors corrected in a story in English but not, for instance, in a historical account. Expectations about quality of writing, both in relation to accuracy and expression, need to be more consistent across subjects if pupils are to have a clearer notion of how they can improve."
Ofsted subject reports 2003/04
English in primary schools, HMI 2413, February 2005

"Pupils benefited from high quality marking and detailed feedback which helped them to improve specific linguistic features in their writing.

However, such detailed marking was lacking in around two thirds of the schools visited."
Ofsted - 'Could they do even better?'

"Two further weaknesses are evident in schools where formative assessment is judged to be weak. First, pupils are not sufficiently involved in assessment of their own performance. As a consequence, they are unaware of their areas of strength and weakness and do not know what they need to do to improve and how they could go about this. A number of successful schools have addressed this problem by developing techniques for self-assessment and peer-assessment, thus enabling pupils to develop a better appreciation of the standards required and what they need to do to improve their performance. The second common weakness relates to the quality of marking and feedback to pupils on their work. In the least effective practice, teachers resort to bland and rather meaningless statements such as ‘try to do better’ or ‘concentrate harder and you will not make careless mistakes’ rather than providing a focus for improvement. At its best, marking and oral feedback concentrate on the key mathematical idea, provide targets for improvement that are achievable and present these in a supportive way intended to maintain pupils’ self-esteem."
Ofsted subject reports 2003/04
Mathematics in primary schools, HMI 2339, February 2005

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"The most frequent criticism by inspectors is of poor marking – general rather than subject specific and often setting insufficiently high expectations. For example, unfinished and scrappy work is tolerated without comment or recourse to improvement. Often individual teachers assess history in their own way so that the outcomes are unsystematic and of doubtful reliability and validity. Such weaknesses need to be tackled at whole school level."

Ofsted subject reports 2003/04
History in primary schools, HMI 2342, February 2005