Education quandary

My daughter's homework gets only scrawled comments and mistakes left uncorrected. Why don't teachers mark properly?
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The Independent Online

Hilary's advice

If this is happening in many subjects, then take the matter up with the head. Ask what the school's homework policy is, and show examples of where it is not being put into practice. If there is no sign of the school taking action, take the matter up with the governors. Why should students bother with homework, if teachers can't be bothered with homework?

But it is important to understand what "good" marking is. Not every piece of work, for example, needs marks or a grade. In fact research done by King's College in London has shown that, if no marks are given, pupils tend to focus much more on their teachers' comments. The important thing is that these comments are clear and well-focused, so students understand what they need to do to improve their work.

Also, work can be marked for many different things. If an English teacher has been trying to encourage pupils to write more freely, using a wider vocabulary and more complex sentences, it would be undermining to return their efforts with every grammatical and spelling error having been highlighted. That's not to say that these things aren't important. Just that they are not the priority here.

It is also perfectly valid, at times, for pupils to mark each other's work, and for parents to be asked to go through homework with their children. Both these things can help children learn. Marking takes up a huge amount of teachers' time, and it is important that this time is used as productively as possible.

Readers' advice

As a tutor, I see school work corrected by many different teachers, and I am often appalled by the slackness and unhelpfulness of the marking. I know teachers are overworked and underpaid, but unless they give priority to thorough, careful marking, their students cannot learn how to improve their work. One sixth-former was surprised to hear from me that he should start a sentence with a capital letter; corrections by his English teacher, at his expensive, well-known boarding school, had never made it clear this was necessary.
Jane Darwin London SW7

I have just spent an entire Sunday afternoon working my way through 32 history essays. My writing hand is aching, and I have not spent the hour in my garden that I had planned. If comments are "scrawled" and if mistakes go uncorrected it is because if teachers worked any slower they would never eat, sleep or shower, let alone have any sort of normal life.
Mary Bray, Essex

Last year I moved jobs and our son, against his will, had to take up a place in another school. In his former school homework was either "read this chapter" or "finish off what you were doing in class" and assignments were often not returned for weeks. We all thought this was normal. In his new school every piece of work is commented on and returned the next lesson. As a result his work has come on in bounds. Yet this school is just another local secondary school. Parents need to know that homework is a direct reflection of a school's culture and leadership, and do something if things don't seem right.
Neil Lamott, Cheshire

Next week's quandary

My son is 27 and unhappy working in marketing. He is planning to do an MBA, in order to change his career direction, but my husband, who works in engineering, says MBAs are ten-a-penny and no one takes them seriously any more. I don't want my son to be thwarted, but I don't want him to waste his money either.

Send your letters or quandaries to Hilary Wilce by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Second Floor, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax: 020-7005 2143; or e-mail: Please include details of your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack