Feedback to inform learning

teacher-and-girl-with-book-1024Join Bethnal Green Academy as they take you through the use of ‘book looks’ – an approach that ensures a consistent, whole-school approach to marking and feedback that impacts on the learning and progress of all students.


Bethnal Green Academy is a smaller than average secondary school in East London (973 on role with a sixth form). The school converted to academy status in January 2012 and the sixth form opened in September 2012. There are approximately 20% more boys than girls attending the academy.

Exam results are well above the national averages and students make high levels of progress. The December 2012 Ofsted report found the school to be ‘outstanding’ in all categories.

Girls 39.7% (lowest quintile) Boys 60.3%
77.3% FSM (highest quintile)
14.9% school action and school action plus (highest quintile)

About three-quarters of students have English as an additional language. The proportion of students from minority ethnic backgrounds is much higher than that found nationally. There are also a high number of students who are mid-phase admissions.

Reason for action

The school wanted to ensure that the students had the opportunity and skills to engage in a dialogue about their work. Feedback was developed to have a greater sense of purpose, with the student expected to continue the ‘dialogue’ about their work. This, in turn, would develop a richer learning experience.

Although marking and feedback was already very good, the school showed the awareness to respond to the changes in Ofsted framework and an increased focus on marking and feedback, an increased importance on the learning that takes place in the lesson, and the ability to show progress over time.

There were examples of good individual practice but inconsistencies across the school. The whole-school challenge became about whether this could be transferred to consistent practice across all subjects and how that might be achieved. ‘Book looks’ were introduced in September 2012 and were a regular half-termly feature of school self-evaluation.


In Redesigning Schooling – 8: Principled assessment design (available for members to download here), Dylan William draws on the Assessment Reform Group’s 10 research-based principles for effective assessment, including:

  • Assessment for learning should be part of effective planning of teaching and learning.
  • Assessment for learning should focus on how students learn.
  • Assessment for learning should be recognised as central to classroom practice.
  • Learners should receive constructive guidance about how to improve.
  • Assessment for learning develops learners’ capacity for self-assessment so they can become reflective and self-managing.


Policy is set by the Ofsted expectations, in combination with teaching pedagogy. The four main areas monitored included:

  • regularity
  • challenge and questioning
  • student response
  • developing literacy.

A format is set. Coloured responses show the dialogue of feedback: students write in blue or black, teachers give feedback in green pen and students respond in red pen. This made it easy to clearly identify learners’ dialogue.

In 2013, this was reviewed more formally as book looks and the findings were written up as a report. There has always been a specific focus to the book looks, whether ability range, progress, G&T, focus on white British students, FSM or SA/SA+.

There has always been a specific focus to the book looks, whether ability range, progress, G&T, focus on white British students, FSM or SA/SA+.

They compare book looks to RAISEonline findings, and address any differences. Increasingly, this has been a collaborative process. Colleagues are paired together to highlight the best practice, which is then shared. Collaboration takes place between the heads of subject, heads of year, SENCo and SLT. Pairings aim to take into account similarity of discipline, eg humanities and English, maths and science, creative technologies and expressive arts.

Consistency is increased through the collaborative discussions which surround the process. Feedback is submitted on a form and amalgamated by an assistant vice principal to create the basis of the formal report.

pile-of-books-1024The cumulative report is a bound publication which gives detail of the key elements that were looked at and the degree to which the feedback suggests the whole school is meeting the expectations. Examples of best practice are colour copied and shared, and areas are highlighted for development. The updated information is then analysed during morning briefing the following day.

The focus for improvement identified by the report becomes the driver for CPD. Whether Wednesday staff briefings, induction, Inset or ‘faulty review’. The greatest power of the report is in the conversations that follow, and the actions co-ordinated by groups involved including departments, faculties and year groups.

As it has developed, it has moved from being a reasonably efficient initiative that delivered clear, whole-school impact to being a model that has become more empowering through collaboration and shared ownership. In its most recent format, the process includes student involvement and feedback which is also integrated into the cumulative report.

It is an ongoing process, but the overall belief is that the learners can be, and are, becoming more independent and resilient.

In reality

Staff at the academy are energetic and very enthusiastic. There is pride in their 2012 ‘outstanding’ judgement and a determination to progress further. There is also a clear message that this is a process intended to increase the resilience and independence of students as much as it is a process of meeting an Ofsted requirement.

Consistency in marking is key to ensuring outstanding teaching and learning in the classroom. This regularity helps to ensure that marking, feedback and student response is a high priority for individual departments as well as the whole school. This ensures that – as well as whole-school CPD being informed by current practice – the ongoing informal training that may be required on an individual basis is immediate and accessible.


Marking and feedback was already a strength of the school (Ofsted 2012):

  • ‘Feedback supports aspects of literacy and numeracy.
  • Questioning is used extremely well to develop students’ thinking and learning, and to promote discussion.
  • There are many opportunities for students to evaluate how well they are doing – they understand what they have to do to improve.
  • The way that teachers give feedback to students, both in lessons and through the marking of students’ work, is highly effective. This makes a major contribution to students’ learning.’

Over the three book looks (October 2013 – March 2014) the percentage of books that had been marked consistently within the two-week cycle had increased to 100%. The response to the critical questions about the level of challenge, questioning, student response and literacy have all shown significant improvement. Books are marked consistently within the two-week cycle.

What next?

  • Further involvement of TAs: TAs are well qualified, trained and placed in areas of specialism. The school is developing their involvement in the continuing dialogue of feedback. They have green pens and contribute feedback in lesson time, posing questions to deepen understanding.
  • Student response to feedback on exam performance – ensuring that the mock exam process becomes part of the dialogue.
  • Focus on feedback in practical subjects without extensive use of books or folders. Grids for feedback in art, PE and other practical subjects are being trialled to facilitate the dialogue, based on verbal and diagnostic comments on performance.

rs-in-action-bethnal-greenThis article is taken from our Redesigning Schooling in Action series. The series includes case studies from SSAT member schools that focus on five areas:

Teaching for learning
Principled curriculum design
Principled assessment design
Courageous leadership for professional accountability
The new professionalism.

SSAT member? You have access to more than 20 case studies in the member area of our website. Find out more here.

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