Hot debate: should homework be banned?

Science teacher Andrea McCardle (36) and English language teacher Lisa Tull (38) both work at a state high school in the North East. One would ban homework, the other would transform it. Who do you agree with, asks Susi Bryant

Should homework be banned?

The system dictates that children should be set anything from half an hour to two hours per subject per week. You find yourself setting tasks for the sake of setting them sometimes

Andrea:  “I think set weekly homework should be banned for all children except sixth formers. With sixth form it’s different: the pupils are committed to further education and want to be stretched. Children are generally forced to grow up too quickly though. They should be allowed to go home at the end of a school day and be left to pursue their own interests. A lot of homework I set is just repetition of what I teach the child in the classroom anyway. You can’t really set tasks that the children haven’t covered yet or they won’t understand what to do. I often feel I’m just setting homework for the sake of it.”  

Parental help with homeworkLisa: “I think for subjects like English homework is really important. Unlike subjects such as science we can’t cover everything in class. The pupils need to practise skills such as writing essays and this is best done outside school so I’d never agree with a blanket ban. In English, we can teach techniques in class but the children need to be able to demonstrate their understanding of them in their own time. Homework teaches children to be independent learners.”  

Andrea:
  “In my opinion if a child really wants to learn they will go away and do research themselves without you having to formally set them anything. Those that are eager to learn always will. You can never be sure either if the pupil has done the homework themselves anyway, even if they do hand it in on time. There are a lot of competitive parents out there willing to do the child’s work for them. Homework just makes pushy parents pushier and if the child isn’t doing the work themselves you’re then left with the wrong impression of how that child is performing.”  

Lisa: “I’m pretty sure that the children in my care complete their homework by themselves. I get to know their styles and what they’re capable of so I’d probably be able to spot if someone had done it for them. I appreciate this isn’t the same for all subjects though, especially science and maths. I do think it’s important, though, that parents are around to assist with homework. It’s useful if they are able to give general guidance - to help interpret questions, for example. I’ve found that they can sometimes be more of a hindrance though. It can knock a child’s confidence if someone is hovering over their shoulder being too critical.”

Andrea: “I’m a parent myself but I still believe when my children reach school age I would prefer it if they were free to do what they like after school hours. Children need to learn social and survival skills outside of the classroom. Parents should be teaching their children to cook and encouraging things like reading for their own joy rather than having to force them to sit down at a desk and do further study. They also need to spend time with other children outside of the school setting.”  

Should homework be banned? Do students need more motivation? Lisa: “Banning homework altogether would be too extreme in my opinion, though I do think a better approach would be to allow the individual teacher more flexibility over what tasks they set and when they set them. The system at the moment dictates that children should be set anything from half an hour to two hours per subject per week depending on their age. This can take up a lot of the teacher’s time and you do find yourself setting tasks for the sake of setting them sometimes. I often spend a lot of time chasing pupils that don’t hand homework in when they should. It does get tedious.”

Andrea: “I waste an awful lot of time chasing homework as well and it’s hugely disproportionate to the benefit that homework brings. My own policy is to issue a detention the third time the handing in of homework has to be requested, if I was to issue a detention on a first request there would be half the class permanently on detention.  

Lisa:  “Homework really needs to be beneficial to the child’s academic progress and more faith should be placed in the teacher’s judgement to set work as and when they think it’s appropriate.  I could see this creating a problem with parents though.  I’m sure some of them would think the school was failing them if they didn’t see their child bringing work home regularly. This is one of the reasons you could never ban homework across the board. The parents wouldn’t be able to understand the reasoning.”

Andrea: “Setting regular weekly homework means that far too much of my time has to be spent on marking, though. I can either plan and teach good lessons or I can mark books. I teach around 250 pupils a week. That means 250 separate pieces of homework have to be marked. If those books are going to be marked properly I need to spend at least 10 minutes on each.  I don’t have time to do that on top of my 21 hours of classroom-based teaching and the many other hours I have to spend on lesson plans and preparation. The modern teaching style is very interactive. Teachers don’t just ask pupils to open a text book and tell them to get on with it while they sit at the front and mark like they used to.”

* The names in this article have been changed

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