Gazette Article 7: “Is homework valuable help or just a threat to family life?”

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Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 27th March 2013

How much homework should be given to children at primary school?

I asked the question on the Educating Brentwood Facebook page last week and, as I anticipated, the responses received reflected a range of views on the subject.

Ann Cardus commented, “I believe homework should be tangible, start from day one in Reception and gradually increase through to Secondary school” but also that “it should not be arduous”. While Victoria Parkinson stated, “hold off until GCSE, doing pointless tasks for the sake of it has the adverse impact on learners!”

It has been a subject for discussion in our house as our kids’ school has revamped its homework policy and, as a result, they are expected to do more than previously. If they don’t complete it they will be expected to attend “homework club” in their lunch break.

Our son’s workload has been particularly heavy as he is in Year 6 and his homework is intended to prepare him to meet expectations in forthcoming SATs tests. But is this new regime actually to his benefit or the school’s?

HomeworkFrustrationWe have been told that the changes were in response to some parental feedback. As my opinion has not been canvassed I can only assume that it came from parents who offered it voluntarily. Previously optional activities were always set for those who wished their children to do more than was compulsory so I am confused as to why the whole policy should be amended to cater for a section of the school community.

A friend, and fellow former pupil of Brentwood County High School, Victoria Dupras, is now a primary head teacher in Bristol. She feels that there are tangible benefits in supporting reading development at home and that setting some homework can promote a culture of learning.

“Children who feel that learning is high status in their family are more likely to see school and learning as high status, so parents becoming involved with their children’s learning at home can have a profound effect on attitudes to learning and school.”

This makes some sense to me and reflects our experience and the homework policy that we had been used to up to this point. However, I fear that setting a heavier workload may jeopardize this support. If the amount of homework that a parent is meant to support becomes unmanageable it risks turning off the whole family.

TV Presenter Kirstie Allsop is among those calling for a complete ban on homework until Key Stage 3. She believes that any benefit is outweighed by the detrimental effect on family time and activities that can better aid a child’s development at that age.

My friend and colleague Debbie Foster has written about this on the Educating Brentwood website: “Why should we not view and encourage family board games, days out, cooking, helping around the home and making models as equally important? Many of these activities involve the complex problem solving, mathematical, language and social skills that children need to develop.”

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A much quoted paper on this subject by Prof John Hattie indicates that she may have a point. Hattie’s research shows that compulsory homework seems to be less effective in a child’s academic development until students become independent learners, in other words, when they become less dependent on direct parental support.

Some respondents reflected my concerns about the enforcement of homework policy. I agree with Ken Millar who commented, “I don’t believe children in Primary should be punished (missed playtimes etc) for not doing homework. Let’s face it kids only do homework when parents facilitate it so children end up getting punished because parents don’t know how to help or haven’t got the time.”

Last year the government announced the scrapping of homework guidance for schools their view being that school leaders and governors should be able to ascertain what to set their students outside of school hours to benefit their learning.

So the decision is now entirely one for individual schools. Do you feel yours has got it right? Or are pressures to meet key measures leading to too great a burden being placed on you and your family?

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