It’s Sunday night, it’s been a long, long weekend, but finally the kids are in their PJs you’re just about to unscrew the wine and settle down to watch the ‘Strictly’ results, when you remember with a jolt…HOMEWORK. You haven’t done the bl**dy homework.
The ‘you’ in that last sentence wasn’t in fact a Freudian slip, because much as it’s the children who are officially set homework, the reality, more often than not, is that it ends up falling at the feet of frazzled parents and becomes just one more thing to tick off the to-do list.
Consequently it seems that homework is having an increasing impact on family life. A recent survey by Butlins found that more than half (55%) of parents spend more than 40 hours a year trying to keep up with the latest school curriculum.
While 36% feel completely unable to assist their kids with homework leading to feelings of embarrassment and anxiety when they cannot help. Hardly surprising, therefore, that the subject of homework can bring about family disagreements, with a separate survey revealing one in 20 couples admit to regularly arguing about homework.
The fierce homework debate has been reignited this week thanks to actor and comedian Rob Delaney who took to Twitter to complain about how much homework his 7-year-old was being set.
“Why do they give 7 yr olds so much homework in UK & how do I stop this,” he wrote. “I want my kid frolicking & drawing & playing football. Who knows more about stopping this madness & can help me?[sic]“
His comments quickly sparked a social media debate, with parents and other celebrities wading in with their own views.
‘Match of the Day’ presenter Gary Lineker agreed with Delaney, describing homework as a “waste of time”.
He said it brought stress to the home, child, parents and their relationship.
“Seems an awful lot of parents agree on the pointlessness and stressful nature of homework,” the father-of-four wrote. “Kids should be allowed to play and enjoy home-life with their parents without the divisiveness of work they have plenty of time to do at school. There’s plenty of time to be an adult.”
As Delaney’s debate certainly proves the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains a thorny one, with child development experts taking up residence in both the for and against camps.
Back in 2016, a school in the Highlands revealed it had stopped setting homework for its 175 pupils. Instead, the children will be encouraged to read books that interest them and play.
It follows the Essex secondary school that’s scrapped the traditional approach to homework, allowing pupils to choose tasks rather than having a set amount of work to be completed.
Meanwhile in Spain parents recently went on a homework strike in protest over the large amounts of homework their children are set. Parents from 12,000 schools nationwide boycotted their children’s homework for the entire month of November. The Spanish Alliance of Parents’ Associations (CEAPA), which called the strike, argues that homework is detrimental to children.
And a couple of years ago a message from a teacher from Texas went viral for calling off homework for her pupils.
“After much research this summer, I am trying something new,” the teacher wrote. “I ask that you spend your evenings doing things that are proven to correlate with student success. Eat dinner as a family, read together, play outside, and get your children to bed early.”
There’s no doubt the move is a controversial one, but could it be the right one? Is homework an unnecessary burden on parents or could taking homework off the curriculum actually be harming our children’s development?
Helpful or harmful?
Dr Jonathan Doherty, Research and Development Lead for Primary Education in the Institute of Childhood and Education at Leeds Trinity University, believes there is some evidence to suggest that homework can help continue the learning process once you’ve left the school gates.
“Children are learning all the time both formally and informally,” he says. “Time at school where direct high quality teaching takes place offers excellent opportunities to acquire new knowledge, deepen understanding and acquire or refine different skills. And homework can enhance this.”
But what about the question of kids being allowed to be kids? Don’t children spend enough time toiling away at school, shouldn’t we let their free time be free-from work?
Some children certainly think so. A boy recently wrote to David Cameron, who was the PM at the time, asking him to follow the recent actions of French President François Hollande and ban homework for primary-aged children. “I work really hard at school every day and think that when I get home it should be my time to play with friends and chill out,” he wrote. Cameron wrote back saying he believed homework is “an essential part of a good education”.
But some experts seem to believe there is little evidence to prove that primary school homework is actually essential or even useful, in fact some recent studies have suggested it actually makes no difference to learning at all. Other bodies believe that though there is growing evidence pointing to the fact that homework may work well for teenagers and secondary school pupils for primary school children its an unnecessary burden.
Then there’s the question of how much of that burden falls on the parents, particularly in the case of primary school children.
“Homework at primary school age can often require some kind of guidance from an adult, so parents HAVE to help,” explains Jo Otto, former teacher, mum-of-two and founder of educational app Maths Rockx, which teaches kids times tables through music. “The trouble is, parents of primary school children are often time poor so this can add extra stress on all involved. Children are tired and restless, parents are tired and busy and it ultimately creates pressure and frustration for both and essentially it can become a battle.”
This is exactly the scene described by one mum friend of her weekly homework skirmish.
“I hate doing homework with my boys aged six and seven,” she says. “The prospect of it hangs over us all weekend like a black cloud. They moan and prevaricate so much that what should take 30 minutes can take two hours. It is like pulling teeth.”
She believes homework is less about helping children learn and more about meeting the needs of pushy parents. “Children are already overscheduled to the point of exhaustion so all it seems to do is prevent little ones from having fun for an extra couple of hours a week.”
And in some cases children can be poring over homework for much longer than this. Research by OECD found that UK pupils had on average 5 hours of homework per week – but as this figure included pupils who appeared to do almost no homework, it seems many pupils will be working for much longer on homework than this each week.
“Children’s learning needs to steady and continual, which is why some homework over weekends or holidays can be beneficial,” says Anne-Marie O’Leary, Netmums editor in Chief.
“However, increasingly Netmums finds parents discussing their concerns with the amount of daily homework during term time for Reception upwards, which can be difficult to manage with tired children and parents, and the time constraints that are part and parcel of a family’s busy life. Family time, physical activity, hobbies – and rest – are all as vital as academic pursuits and many Netmums users feel the balance is shifting too much towards homework. The added concern is that sometimes the homework is set is beyond the capabilities of children and feels far more a test of a parent’s skills and knowledge. Too often parents are telling us they’ve stayed up till all hours building replicas of Pompeii or building recycling plants out of loo rolls.”
Jo Otto also believes that extensive and complicated homework can add to the pressures of modern parenting. “Homework deadlines for the little ones creates undue stress on both the child and parents,” she explains. “They’ve already had 5 hours face to face, they need to unwind and be kids, play, do their after school sports/music etc. There has to be a balance.”
Whether you fall in the for or against homework camp, it seems that the key to successful outside school learning depends on the type and amount of homework that pupils are given.
“The best ‘homework’ are activities that extend what is being taught at school and engages the child to further their knowledge.” Explains Dr Jonathan Doherty. “Often this is very practical, for example trips and visits, first hand learning and done with the involvement of parents, becomes even more powerful.”
Jo Otto agrees. “Ultimately the goal of homework is to consolidate the basic skills that the children learn at school. If the homework is well constructed and hopefully enjoyable for the child then there are definitely benefits, both in the consolidation of basic skills and just as importantly in the confidence that kids get when they get to school and find that they “DO” know the answers to the questions.”
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