Ban homework in primary schools

October 25, 2013

???????????????????????????????Last year Michael Gove scrapped guidelines that laid out how much homework schools should be setting. Let’s ask him to go a step further and scrap homework in primary schools altogether.

Schools continue to operate under the false assumption that homework is necessary for children to gain a satisfactory level of academic achievement, and to pander to the pressure from parents who also operate under this misconception.

The fact is that there is not a single piece of evidence that can show any real correlation between homework and academic achievement at this stage, nor that shows any improvement in study habits.

Yet many recent studies and reports have raised serious concerns about the well-being of children, their lack of physical activity, excessive time spent in front of screens, increasingly limited time for free play, and lack of time spent outdoors.

Homework is an intrusion on family time, on children’s free time, and can be a regular source of conflict in the home. It creates unnecessary anxiety and pressure for children.

Young children already spend enough time engaged in formal school work. To expect them; to bring more of this home risks overloading them and turning them off learning altogether. They learn and develop in so many other ways. Time for free play, outdoor play, pursuing their own interests, and quality family time is essential for their development and well-being.

This is why I’ve started a petition to ban homework in primary schools. Although, truth be told, I don’t think for a second Michael Gove would ever make such a move. After all, this is the man who wants to increase the length of the school day and the school year. I really don’t think he could entertain the notion that children might actually have other things to do with their time than sit at desks cramming as much formal learning into their precious young years as possible. And he’s not really one for looking at evidence – something made abundantly clear in his response to last month’s letter to the Telegraph from several leading experts calling for a rethink in early years policy.

But hey, Gove won’t be Education Secretary forever (God forbid), and raising awareness is always worthwhile. Since Gove’s already scrapped the homework guidelines, perhaps a change of attitude for parents and teachers is all that’s needed to break the current trend.

So don’t despair – sign and share the petition today!


Homework Clubs: Taking the home out of homework, dropping the pretence.

July 9, 2013

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. 

Young Boy LearningI 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.


My manifesto for parent governor

February 14, 2013

The position of parent governor seems to be quite sought after at my child’s school. We were recently invited to vote to elect two new governors – I think we had a choice of about eight people who had put themselves forward. Each had written a paragraph about themselves. Personally I didn’t think any of them gave much away about what their opinions were – where they stood, what they would like to see improved at the school, what ideas they had. But I’m probably being naïve. How much opportunity do parent governors really have to change anything? Still, it would have been nice to know a little more about the views of the people we were being asked to vote for.

A letter has just come home telling us there are a further two positions to fill, and inviting parents to put themselves forward, with a “personal statement”, anticipating that another election will be necessary.

So, just for fun, here’s my manifesto. Here’s what I would stand up for if I was parent governor.

speaker2An end to all shame-based punishments in school.

Punitive ‘behaviour modification techniques’ such as placing children’s names on a ‘sad chart’, or announcing children’s names in assembly are practices that shame children and hark back to methods used in Victorian classrooms. Practices like this make children feel ashamed and bad about themselves, causing emotional harm, and ultimately making behaviour worse. They fail to address any underlying issues, and can be particularly destructive for children with individual needs or problems. Plenty of teachers have managed, and continue to manage classroom behaviour perfectly well without resorting to these methods. There’s no excuse for it and no need for it. Our children deserve better!

And while we’re on the subject of punishment, collective punishment is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, and generally considered a violation of human rights and justice, but it’s OK for school children? Really?

More outdoor learning.

Studies have shown that outdoor learning can be extremely beneficial to children, with evidence of improvement in both learning and behaviour. A recent report by the National Trust raises serious concerns about the amount of time today’s children are now spending indoors, and advocates children being taken outdoors for lessons as much as possible. Regular daily outdoor learning appears to be something only our nursery and reception children benefit from, so ceases when children are still only age 5! Looking for more opportunities to take learning outside, such as making links and working with local forest school practitioners and trainers would be a good way forward.

An improved, revamped playground.

Children’s play is important to them, but is limited and stifled by a bland environment. Less concrete and more natural features are needed. Oh, and that rule about not going on the grass – get over it!!

An end to age segregation in the playground

Our children already spend enough time segregated into age groups. Playing in mixed age groups is natural and has many developmental benefits for children. Play becomes more creative and less competitive. Is it really necessary to separate KS1 and KS2 in the playground? Surely, with a little effort and thought we can find ways to facilitate and encourage mixed age groups at playtime.

The encouragement and promotion of part-time attendance for reception children.

Our children are the amongst the youngest school starters in Europe. Many may not be ready emotionally or socially for full-time school life. In the UK, parents have the right to request part-time attendance until their child reaches legal school age – the term after they turn five. Yet few parents are aware of this, and even if they are, they are hesitant to do something ‘different’ for fear of going against the norm or making their child stand out. A school that is more open and forthcoming about this option would have the potential to make it the norm, and so to better support children as they make the transition into school life. Too much too soon is counter-productive for children, both emotionally and academically.

An end to homework

There is no evidence to show that homework in primary schools improves academic performance. There’s a lot of assumption, but there’s no evidence. No research has shown a correlation between homework and improved grades.

Family time is important, and families should decide how to spend it. Kids spend enough time engaged in formal learning in school. Give them a break. There is plenty to be learned and gained from other activities, from free play, from being outdoors, from pursuing individual interests, from spending quality time connecting as a family. Children’s lives today are already over-scheduled. This isn’t helping.

Sign the petition against homework in primary schools.

ballot box

So, if I can get all this down to 200 words I could submit it and nominate myself to stand for parent governor. Would you vote for me? What would you add to this list?