In November 2016 I wrote a guest-post for The Inflectionist – an online magazine (now defunct) with columns from current affairs to arts and culture.
My piece was included under the ‘Education’ column.
IS HOMEWORK IN NEED OF A CULTURAL REVOLUTION?
by Violetta Buono
In the news this month, the Spanish Alliance of Parents’ Associations (CEAPA) has been on strike, protesting their children’s workload outside school. With 2 or more hours of set homework per night, parents are concerned that their children have limited time to pursue anything else.
The conflicting information goes further still when comparing time spent on homework and academic performance by country. Consistently ranking amongst the top ten for academic excellence, countries like Singapore and Finland are on polar opposites when it comes to extracurricular hours, with 13.8 and 2.8 average per week respectively.
Changing the traditional approach, however, comes with its own challenges, as the headmistress of Philip Morant School and College in Colchester discovered. After circulating a letter to inform parents of the school’s opting for student-led vocational tasks instead of set homework, a disgruntled parent reported the issue to Ofsted.
Favouring independent learning could set children up for the discipline required to participate in university and further education. Catherine Hutley also explained that the decision would allow teachers more time, which might be better served in planning higher quality lessons.
Among others to follow this trend, Cheltenham Ladies College also scrapped homework to try to combat the effects of an “epidemic of anxiety” and mitigate the worsening mental health concerns in adolescents. Inverlochy Primary in Fort William put the issue to a vote for parents and students, and made away with homework as well, opting instead to read with family as an alternative.
Opinions differ, and it is a polarising issue on which neither parents nor researchers appear to be able to reach a consensus. With a Children’s World study revealing that UK children are the laziest when it comes to homework of all the countries investigated, it leaves one to wonder to what extent the issue is a pedagogical one, or a symptom of a more pervasive culture.
Mental health concerns, overworked teachers, and disgruntled parents are just some of the factors involved in a would-be homework revolution. Is it high time we re-examine the value of taking the curriculum outside of the classroom?
According to Russell Hobby, leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, we should look to our Scandinavian cousins for inspiration. The Finnish’s “long-term approach to education policy” allows programmes to take effect over a larger timespan, favouring a more accurate analysis of their effectiveness.
Without the backing of our government, as well as solid support for teachers, the system’s schoolchildren and their parents could easily be left behind. Although the surveys reveal differing statistics, the common thread is that learning is and should be supported outside of traditional teaching hours. Be it self-led, family-taught, or more formally tutored, there is a benefit in revising academic material beyond the classrooms.