This article was originally published in the November edition of Education Today.
There has been a lot of debate recently around the subject of homework, with various commentators and high profile individuals weighing into the conversation, particularly via Twitter.
In case you missed the discussion, the main focus was on the stress it can cause pupils and their families (especially those that spend their weekends making models of volcanoes or red blood cells!), in addition to the overall merit of the tasks being set and how much they benefit pupils in the long run, especially earlier on in their school life.
Despite the best efforts of teachers to devise creative and challenging tasks, finding ways to engage pupils in homework can be a never-ending battle – and as both a parent and a teacher, I have extensive experience from all corners of this particular battlefield.
Homework remains an essential element
One of the main reasons that homework continues to have a crucial place in our schools is the increasing pressure on classroom time and the need to cover off all the required curriculum areas ahead of assessments or exams. And without there being a major shift in the way the school day is organised, or how pupils are judged throughout their time in education, this element of homework’s necessity is likely to remain.
Beyond this, though, there are plenty of additional benefits for pupils that confirm the value of homework tasks. Working to tight deadlines and under pressure are key skills to become comfortable with from an early age, particularly with coursework and exams further down the road. Homework tasks also provide a great opportunity for children to develop their ability to work without supervision and sharpen their approaches to managing the time available to them.
And with our increasingly digital world – led by the influence of social media – squeezing out reading more and more, homework that supplements classroom-based studies by requiring additional reading is essential. This also applies to reading for pleasure, where pupils can be encouraged to lose themselves in a good book, even if only for a short period of time each day, and develop their reading skills while also enjoying time away from academic studies.
Despite the potential benefits and necessities, there are an increasing number of schools that are experimenting with scrapping homework all together. While this may be a popular move with many pupils and some parents, only time will tell as to whether this will actually benefit those involved.
While those families may discover that they have more time available for spending time together and enjoying shared experiences, can there be any guarantees that the additional time will be used for anything beyond the normal routines of daily life – the elusive ‘quality time’?
Finding the right balance
One approach that some schools have enjoyed success with is in replacing homework with less academic, more fun-focussed activities that still encourage learning and overcoming challenges, such as online games with their friends where their performance is not measured against standards or benchmarks.
One thing that can be predicted is that the debate over the merits of homework will probably continue in perpetuity – and love it or hate it, it’s unlikely to disappear completely any time soon.
However, schools need to continue finding ways to stretch pupils with challenging and engaging tasks and avoid setting homework just to occupy the time. From my experience, schools that recognise the importance of finding the right balance between home and school life that allows pupils time and space to pursue their own interests stand to reap the greatest benefits. Encouraging children to make time for their studies alongside their own activities and engage with schoolwork in their own time allows them to find the ways that work best for them, during both their academic and employment careers.
We at Capita SIMS know that most schools will probably always want to set homework, and today’s technology should support the management of the homework process, and the communication between school, student and parent better than it does today. We’ll have some news on that soon – but I’ll save that for another column!
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