I was highly amused when I recently discovered the existence of a ‘Homework Club’ at my child’s school. The club, which is offered to children in years 4 – 6 (ages 8 – 11), involves children staying behind together at school once a week to complete all their week’s homework. The benefits, I was told, is that this allows children to get all their homework out of the way in one go and not have it ‘hanging over them all week’, and reduces family conflict at home caused by parents having to nag children to do their homework.
Why did I think this was so funny? Well, for me, it basically shoots itself in the foot.
I thought one of the main arguments put forward by homework advocates is that homework helps to create links between home and school, and encourages parents to support and take an interest in their child’s learning. So how exactly does the Homework Club achieve this, I wonder, when homework’s not even being completed at home?
The answer is, it doesn’t. Instead, it drops the guise and reveals homework for what it really is – nothing more than extra indoor, desk-based schoolwork for kids to do in addition to the hours they’ve already put in as part of the normal school day.
The Homework Club basically admits that there is no such link sought between home and school via homework assignments, that homework puts pressure on children, and that homework creates family conflict. Great.
This doesn’t seem to me to leave much to be said in favour of homework other than that perhaps it is necessary for children’s learning and achievement. But this doesn’t stand up either. There is no evidence that homework at this stage improves academic performance. Studies have repeatedly failed to show any correlation between homework and academic achievement.
When I looked into this further I found that these clubs seem to be all the rage, used at many schools, and advocated by many, even those seemingly against the notion of homework.
French president, Francois Hollande, banned homework last year, not because he felt children needed more free time, but because he felt it created inequalities between pupils with a supportive home environment and pupils without this advantage. His answer; homework clubs, and lengthening the school week. This in a nation where children already spend longer hours in school than those in many other countries. Not surprising, I think, that France’s education system and student achievement doesn’t come up looking too rosy in international comparisons.
“Work should be done at school, rather than at home” says Hollande. Yup. Tend to agree with that one. But I’m not in favour of extending the school day either, which is effectively what homework clubs do.
Professor Susan Hallam of the Institute of Education at the University of London published a book back in 2004 entitled “Homework: The evidence”, which highlights how studies have repeatedly failed to show any conclusive link between primary school homework and student attainment levels.
“Homework can also create anxiety, boredom, fatigue and emotional exhaustion in children, who resent the encroachment on their free time,” she says.
Yet she too is in favour of homework clubs. Erm, homework club is an encroachment on free time, is it not?
What bugs me throughout all of this is the underlying assumption that the more formal learning we can cram into children’s lives the better, and that this is the only form of learning, the only ‘worthwhile’ activity for children to be doing.
Yet too much too soon does not create a lifelong love of learning. What’s more, children, particularly at primary school age, benefit from learning in so many different ways, and that includes spending time outdoors, free play, family time, and pursuing other interests and activities of their own choosing. Having time to just be children.
David Blunkett, when he introduced homework guidelines back in 1998, was right to bemoan the fact that 50% of children were spending more than 3 hours a day in front of the television. But recommending more homework in answer to this showed a sadly narrow view and understanding of what constitutes worthwhile activity for children, how they learn, and what is important for their development and well-being.
The Association of Teachers and Lecturers voted at their conference in 2009 in favour of the abolition of homework in primary schools.
But this, along with Gove’s scrapping of Blunkett’s homework guidelines last year, seems to have made no difference. The homework tradition is already too embedded in our culture. Schools continue to operate under the false assumption that homework is necessary for maintaining standards, and to pander to the misguided expectations of pushy parents who mistakenly judge the quality of a school or a teacher by the amount of homework that is set.
Yet pandering to the needs of children should take priority over this. And more time spent engaged in formal learning, whether at home or at school, is not one of those needs.
Sign the petition against homework in primary schools.