Research School Network: Feedback Policies Why they matter and how to write a good one

Blog


Feedback Policies

Why they matter and how to write a good one

by Sandringham Research School
on the

Tim Spencer – Evidence Lead & Deputy Headteacher, Fearnhill School

As a school leader I am – unsurprisingly, I admit – always looking for ways to improve my school. There are many competing priorities and therefore many different directions in which to potentially head. I have lived through enough SLT vanity projects in my career to know these should be avoided at all cost. I am also aware of the pitfalls of a well-intentioned new strategy or project that delivers short-term benefits, but inadvertently burdens teachers with yet more stuff to do. With that in mind, I want to outline why reviewing and rewriting your school’s feedback policy is a great option for bringing about lasting improvements to pupil progress and staff wellbeing.

Leaders are readers

The last recommendation of the excellent EEF report, Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning’ [1], concerns design of school feedback policies. It is not a coincidence that this is the final recommendation. Any school leader responsible for writing such a significant policy should prioritise developing a level of expertise concerning assessment and feedback before deciding on whole school approaches. Leaning on our own experiences of assessment and feedback is not enough; expertise comes through engaging with research. School leaders need to challenge their own beliefs and assumptions regarding feedback before they enshrine them in the school’s feedback policy.

Principles not practices

When done well, feedback has a more significant benefit on student progress than almost any other intervention a teacher might employ [2]. However, there are large discrepancies in reported size-effects for feedback in edu-research [3]; the challenge is not whether to give feedback, but how to do it well. In the words of John Hattie – who is more qualified than most to comment on the subject – The same feedback for one child, doesn’t work with another, the same feedback today, doesn’t work tomorrow.” [4] Therefore, avoid writing an overly prescriptive feedback policy that acts as a straightjacket restricting teachers’ autonomy in providing effective feedback.

Less is more

With this in mind, good whole-school feedback policies would probably benefit from being shorter in most instances. Highlight the purpose of all feedback, use the language of feedback’, rather than, marking’, promote a range of effective strategies and use the policy to manage expectations. This final point needs over-communicating across the school community since there will be many pupils, parents and – in some cases – teachers, who mistakenly equate volume of written marking with quality of feedback, or even quality of education more broadly.

Respect the disciplines

Whilst the whole school policy will benefit from brevity, it is worth encouraging subject disciplines to develop their own policies. As a scientist, I am very conscious that good feedback in my subject is very different from good feedback in English or music, for example. Therefore, each discipline should specify in more detail what feedback will look like for them. Just make sure that these policies do not lock teachers into a never-ending cycle of lugging books to and from school to keep up with unrealistic marking schedules.

Opportunity Cost

Recruitment and retention of good teachers will be one of the highest priorities for any school leader. Your whole school feedback policy will play a significant role in determining the effectiveness of your recruitment and retention strategy whether you like it or not. Dylan Wiliam states that, Feedback should be more work for the recipient than the donor’ [5]; but it has to be much less work for the donor if you are going to reduce unnecessary workload for teachers in your school without impinging on the quality of feedback students receive. There is not an educational argument (at least, not a good one) to be made for insisting on regular and lengthy written marking. The time teachers spend writing comments in books cannot also be spent on lesson planning, curriculum development or thoughtful assessment design. And it certainly prevents teachers from resting and recharging their batteries which is likely to be of greater value in the medium to long-term.

Do it for the pupils, not Ofsted

But, you don’t understand! We are expecting Ofsted!” This may be your response to the thought of shifting the emphasis of feedback in your school away from written comments in books. Whilst I can empathise, it is not a reason to baulk. Let me reassure you:

Ofsted mentions marking twice in the school inspection handbook[6]. The first occasion is to state that Ofsted does not expect a certain frequency of marking; the second is to say that inspectors will not evaluate teachers’ marking.

Ofsted does consider the efforts of schools to reduce unnecessary teacher workload, particularly in relation to assessment throughout the inspection handbook.

Most significantly, improving the quality of feedback in your school will improve the overall quality of education and therefore is very much of interest to Ofsted.

Effective feedback is harder to measure than volume of marking, but it is of much greater value. As leaders we need to accept and embrace this fact, even in the high-stakes world of school accountability.


Make your policy your policy

Regardless of how amazing the policy you write is, it will remain a policy in name only without effective implementation and professional development. In many schools making the changes outlined in the EEF report will represent a paradigm shift in the way feedback is viewed. Therefore, writing the policy is only the beginning. The hard work really begins as you work with teachers and pupils to ensure helpful feedback is given and then acted upon on a regular basis.


At first glance, re-writing your school’s feedback policy might not seem like the obvious place to begin the work of school improvement. However, in many cases it will be one of the very best bets for improving the quality of education whilst supporting retention of great teachers.

References

  1. EEF, Teacher Feedback to Improve Pupil Learning guidance report.
  2. Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Assessment and classroom learning, Assessment in Education: Principles, policies and practice, 5(1), 7 – 74.
  3. Kluger, A.N., & Denisi, A. (1996). The effects of feedback interventions on performance: A historical review, a meta-analysis, and a preliminary feedback intervention theory. Psychological bulletin, 119, 254 – 284.
  4. https://youtu.be/Vpq09eY4pZo
  5. Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded Formative Assessment, Bloomington, MN:Solution Tree Press.
  6. Ofsted, (2022). School Inspection Handbook guidance

Further reading

  1. Hattie, J and Timperley, H, (2007). The Power of Feedback, Review of Educational Research, 77 (1), 81 – 112
  2. Fletcher-Wood, H (2018), Responsive Teaching
  3. Kirschner, P.A., & Hendrick, C. (2020). How Learning Happens: Seminal Works in Educational Psychology and What They Mean in Practice, Routledge, 188 – 205.
  4. Christodoulou, D. (2017). Making Good Progress. London: Open University Press.
  5. EEF, Putting Evidence to Work: A School’s Guide to Implementation guidance report


More from the Sandringham Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more