Holiday homework: is it really necessary?
Regardless of your personal beliefs, I hope that your Christmas will be a time for family, friends and festivities. However, as a teacher and a parent, I must regrettably admit that for too many pupils, these Christmas holidays will also include no small amount of homework.
Personally, my view is that homework is totally unnecessary for primary school pupils and those in the first three years of secondary school education. However, I will concede that it is necessary when students reach their crucial exam years.
At that stage – from year 10 and higher – homework assignments serve a purpose; they provide opportunities for students to develop valuable skills in independent research, academic citing, and the fundamental principles of academic honesty.
>> Parents paid £600 'to help their children with homework'
Ultimately each school, teacher and parent will draw their own line in the sand when determining the correct age for pupils to be given homework; but discussions over homework should not stop there.
What must be asked is the value homework provides to students and, in my opinion, that debate should be based upon three questions:
• Is that homework beneficial for the student’s personal education goals?
• Will homework assignments help to develop the student’s independent learning skills?
• How can educators guard against placing undue pressure on students and help parents support their child’s learning?
Today, league tables and exam results have created a mechanistic education system. Schools, pupils and teachers are too often focused on achieving scores and targets.
In my view, this underpins the homework debate, and it completely negates the truest goal of education, which is to inspire and nurture a student’s love for learning.
For parents, when it comes to homework, there is a fine line between helping your children and doing the work for them. Just as teachers should avoid placing unwarranted pressure on their students, parents should appreciate that by doing the work for them, they are in fact hindering their child’s ability to think independently.
Homework becomes an exercise in futility
if children aren’t allowed to take charge of their own learning. Instead, parents should put their efforts into providing an environment which helps to instil a real desire to learn.
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As I have already stated, there will always be times, such as exam preparation, when parents and teachers need to ensure students are studying at home. In my opinion, the true issue isn’t whether students should work at home, it’s whether homework should be routinely assigned?
If schools are teaching correctly and engaging students, the majority of homework becomes irrelevant. In my experience, engaged students regardless of age will, on their own initiative, actively seek to advance their knowledge and learning outside of school. In such cases the teacher and parent roles should then act to support this drive in whatever way they can.
In my own school (which I should mention is an international sixth-form boarding school), we try to use experiential learning to engage and enthuse our students. We do this by providing a dual programme which sees students split their school time equally between academics and corresponding extra-curricular activities.
Frequently, students themselves will take the lead in setting up extra-curricular activities outside of school hours.
>> Extra-curricular activities are worth the extra effort
Having taught in many kinds of schools in the UK and abroad, I can honestly say that no-other curriculum does more to encourage students to become actively involved in their own learning.
While I accept that not every school will have the luxury of adopting a co-curricular programme to the extent we have; it’s an option I actively encourage them to try, and I believe it would be more readily welcomed by their students.
Personally, I don’t think schools should routinely issue students with homework (particularly below GCSE classes). Ultimately, as a parent your question shouldn’t be “why are schools giving so much homework?” but rather, “is this homework relevant, interesting and does it encourage independent thinking?”
John Walmsley is principal of UWC Atlantic College