OFSTED and Book Marking


Oh the dreaded ‘O’ – the bane of all teaching around the country: schools complain and moan; Teachers complain and moan; even pupils complain and moan (but actually have some amazing lessons and really invigorated Teachers following an inspection – see here for more.) What is it that they want to see these days? What makes a good school? What can we do to achieve in the eyes of the government?

The big focus is: Books that show pupil progress.

At the moment there is a huge panic about what should and should not be in books; what the inspectors are looking for; what we should have in the books as a school and (more importantly) what shows/demonstrates that the pupils are learning from their mistakes – hopefully by taking the excellent advice from their Teachers.

After a most unexpected (by the management, not by those looking at the real statistics the government looks at) visit by the dreaded OFSTED, it has been made clear that books are key to everything and show how you as a Teacher, teach. They are looking at these aspects in particular:

  • Differentiation – not just by task or outcome, but evidenced in the books.
  • Structured comments – no patronising ‘Well done,’ actual explanations and advice are needed.
  • Pupil acknowledgement – the next piece should show action on the targets set.
  • Homework used in lessons – make it part of the SOW, to be used in class, not arbitrary.
  • Pupil progress –there should be clear evidence of the pupil developing their skills.
  • Neatness – a bit ‘old school’ but a well presented book demonstrates the pupil’s approach and appreciation of the learning they are doing. Scruffy books show they don’t care.
  • Consistency through the school – Everyone should be marking like everyone else – create a policy.

These are some of the main elements that OFSTED are looking for. However, to quote The Hitch Hikers guide to the Galaxy – Don’t Panic! This does not mean ramping up our workload, nor does it mean overhauling all of you books and back dating comments. Based on advice given by the NASWUT on OFSTED guideline, your marking should simply follow what your school’s marking policy says – they are not looking for red pen dripping from every page as if you are bleeding your life into your marking. It should be the same amount for everyone.

Marking can be very personal, as each person criticises and focuses on different areas to improve; in addition to this, each child has different weaknesses – you would not correct every mis-spelt word by a child with dyslexia. Instead you would select 1-3 commonly mis-spelt words and advise them on how to improve.

Advice is the key to progression – If you were only ever told: Well done or Incorrect, how would you know what was good about it? What did you get wrong and why? In order to help the pupil learn, there must be a level of explanation.

In the next piece of marking you do, don’t focus on all the nitty gritty pedantic things, choose one area which the child needs to develop in order to access the next level of thinking (blooms) and then help them get there by using: rhetorical questions to provoke their thoughts; explanations as to why it was misused or how to use a skill.

Methods I use:

I use 3 different symbols when marking:

 A star Is used for a positive comment, something they did well and explains how it was correctly used (whether they realised it or not)


 A circle is used to give a comment on how and what to improve – normally an isolated area of weakness or common mistake in the work.


 Finally a square is used for a reflective, higher order thinking (Blooms) something that questions why they do something and what would they do differently/advice for another. The pupil must respond to this.

Example: Sentence analysing the front cover of The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo.

I believe it’s about a boy who saves a lion because the boy is carrying a lion.

(the comments go in the following order: Star, circle, square.)

Good starting points to logically deduced ideas from the front cover.


Explain yourself clearly, as you do not justify your points i.e. why is ‘carrying a lion’ suggesting saving?


Compare the boy to yourself – how would you feel in his situation?


As you can see from the above, everything is structured to help the pupil progress and learn from their mistakes. You can always create your own symbols, but I found these to be easy to draw and for the pupils to tell the difference between – takes less time than stamps and stickers too!


This level of marking is not intended for every piece of work, only those where the child is drafting a final piece of work, for example: learning a specific style of writing. Always Do it before a final version, as this will show that the pupil has reflected on what advice was given and implemented it – clearly showing progression and that they have taken your advice on board. If they have not, you can always question the pupil on their work and have them explain in their own words, why they refused to listen to your help, which stopped them form learning. (A bit mean I know, but it makes them think about their actions and learning.)

Overall, marking is not a horrendous task, provided you do it in moderation. Following this, you will only be giving feedback once a week and the pupils will show clear improvement.

OFSTED Marking box – Tick!

For more information on OFSTED check out: Headguruteacher: OFSTED Outstanding?, The Guardian: New Guidelines for Teachers and finally: What I learned from OFSTED