Homework: a torture for children and parents?
“The French President is right. We shouldn’t be torturing our children (and ourselves) with hours of extra study” writes Camilla Cavendish in The Times (18th October).
Camilla Cavendish debates the value of homework for primary and secondary age children. She cites evidence which suggests that for secondary age children an hour of homework a night can bring benefits (but longer can be counter-productive) while there is no conclusive evidence that homework benefits primary age children at all. She considers M. Hollande’s view that all ‘homework’ should be completed in after-school sessions to support those pupils who do not receive the right supervision from parents within a calm home environment. Camilla Cavendish also explores the guilt that parents can feel (working mothers in particular), whether they neglect support for homework, nag and drive their offspring about completing it or even complete it themselves.
I do understand and sympathise. Getting the balance right between supporting your children’s education (which includes encouraging them to spend time on completing homework conscientiously), and interfering and doing too much (risking alienating the children and antagonising teachers) can be a real challenge. Over my time as a head I have had conversations with parents requesting more homework be set, and with those who complain that the amount of homework expected is interfering with their family lives. I would offer the following advice to parents and to schools:
- Schools should make clear how much time they expect children to spend on homework and should have a policy which shows a gradual increase through the primary years (short sessions of private reading, perhaps learning spellings or researching projects), into the secondary years, to GCSE and A level. An hour a night is suitable for the lower secondary years – less at primary level and increasing through GCSE and A level, where timescales also need to become more flexible to give older pupils the opportunities to develop the skills they will need at university or in the world of work.
- Parents should keep a check on how much time their child IS spending, in relation to these guidelines, and talk to the child and the school if the time spent is clearly significantly below or above the time suggested. It is just as worrying if children are spending too much time on homework as too little.
- If homework is assessed it should be possible to earn the highest marks within the time stipulated. Schools must avoid overly rewarding children who spend far more time than has been suggested on particular tasks. This reinforces the message that more is always better.
- Although communicating with children of all ages about homework is good, doing it for them isn’t. If your son or daughter isn’t willing to complete or isn’t capable of completing what is set, the school needs to know. Doing it for them just hides the problem. Talk to the school if this is the case.
- Homework should always be useful reinforcement of learning or extension of work completed in school so that it has a clear purpose and is never set for the sake of it. Ideally, it should be satisfying to complete and even enjoyable!
I do think that completing homework is a useful life skill, involving as it does self-discipline, organisational ability, initiative and resourcefulness. It does bring its issues, and these need to be addressed by communicating with children and with the school, but banning it isn’t the answer. We may have a natural inclination to smooth the way for our children, but actually equipping them with the skills they need to navigate life’s hurdles is far more important. See negotiating homework as one opportunity to do this.