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Banning marking - Good in theory, bad in practice


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A school in Bristol has banned marking in an attempt to increase pupil’s confidence and receptivity of feedback. Gary Schlick, the head of Bedminster Down School in Bristol, states the issuing of grades combined with feedback creates negativity, where pupils will only take notice and attention of the grade, as opposed to ways in which they can improve their work.

This sparks the debate over whether grades within the education system can actually be perceived to be negative and harmful towards confidence and attainment.

Arguably, yes there is a debate which implies grades are harmful, however, this is only a result of academic pressure placed upon students to be successful.

Of course, everyone should be encouraged to do the best they are capable of, but too often the British education system places a heavy focus on everyone obtaining a C or above, when in reality that is not always possible.

The academic system expects perfection, and when this is not obtained or when the constant pressure exists to be perfect, the chances of poor mental health, whether depression or anxiety increases. It is, therefore, no surprise that one in ten young people experience mental health issues, many of which may be a result of an academic system which places more value on grades than on students freewill and wellbeing.

However, though myself and many of those around me have been subjected to the pressures of the academic system, there is a certain sense of obtainment and succession created by achieving a high grade as a result of working hard and refusing to give in.

In some ways, it is nice to get a piece of work back and see a bold A or B at the top of it, which helps to affirm the hard work is paying off.

Truthfully, though some may argue grades hold little value outside of academia, the process of obtaining them does enforce good habits which prove beneficial in the working world. Where you are expected to complete tasks to a high standard on a daily basis.

Overall, while grading holds its negative flaws, these are only a result of a system which needs to change its stance regarding expectations and perfectionism.

It is a system which needs to learn not to paint everyone with the same brush, and to understand the unique nature of each and every pupil. While it can be argued Schlick is attempting to change this, by removing grades, he is critically taking away a sense of obtainment which is crucial in everyday life. When instead he should be encouraging a greater balance between expectations and achievements.

If teachers are not grading and marking in the traditional sense, then how do pupils understand whether their work is good? Schlick proposes many alternative options opposed to the traditional system, which though good, in theory, does hold its drawbacks.

He proposes live marking, where teachers will mark the work as students are doing it, as opposed to the more distant approach of taking it home.

While I can see the value in creating closer connections with students, helping them to understand face to face what they are doing wrong/right and how they can improve. If done in current class sizes, of around 30, would take up too much of the teacher’s class time and may risk those students who are successful achievers, receiving less attention than those who need more assistance.

While it may be argued they do not need this attention, it devalues their hard work as a result of not getting noticed.

Even if teachers were to sit down with students individually and discuss work this would still take up far more time than the traditional marking approach. However, this is critically already a system in place, where though traditional marking is the way in most schools it can be supplemented with meetings should students request them. Yet, this is reliant upon students requesting these meetings in the first place. From my experience of school and academia, few pupils (during secondary school) actually requested to do this, as meetings usually took place during lunch hours, where they wanted to switch off from academic pressures.

Schlick further requests a pick and share approach, where teachers can select good elements of a students' work and share this with the class. While some may consider this to be fine, and it holds the potential to increase work quality, this should only be done with a sense of anonymity. As it may result in introverted students, feeling embarrassed about having their praises sung to the entire class, furthermore in some extreme cases it may create bullying, with students being identified as “swots” or “teacher’s pets”.

Overall while Schlack’s alternative recommendations have positive intentions, they do contain more negative shortfalls, which otherwise would not occur under the traditional marking and grading system.

It can be stated Schlack’s approach is an attempt to modernise the British education system, however, while the system on a whole is flawed due to its idealistic visions of perfectionism in students, little is done here to address that issue, where the introduction of a new marking and grading system may create more issues than it is worth at a secondary education level.

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