Homework — pointless PR for primary school students?

Cue the chorus of “I told you so” from students across the country. The perceived ineffectiveness of homework for primary school-aged children was reported recently in The Age article, ‘Homework in primary schools an exercise in futility, say academics’.

While expert opinion varied somewhat, the overwhelming attitude of those consulted was that homework is of little academic benefit to young students.

Dr Cooper, Professor of Education at Duke University, North Carolina, said, “Homework works but how effective it will be depends on the developmental level and home circumstances of the student. It shouldn’t be given in such large amounts that the child loses their motivation and begins to wonder whether they’re truly interested in the activity: that’s when homework turns from being good to bad.”

Experts closer to home were even more critical. John Hattie, the director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute at the University of Melbourne, suggested homework as it is usually undertaken has little to no effect in primary schools.

Richard Walker, an associate professor at the University of Sydney, said, “If the question is does homework improve learning and achievement as assessed by tests, then the answer, at primary level, is no. There is very little evidence to support it. At junior high school there’s a little bit of evidence to support it but it’s pretty weak and at senior high school level there’s more support.”

When you couple the apparent futility of the process with the time and efforts demanded of parents to follow through with it, the argument against homework mounts. Parents often find that they are the ones left holding the baby, in that they have to introduce and supervise tasks that are often beyond their child’s ability. This can see families up till all hours having to deal with unnecessary stress and tension.

Recently, when a parent of a grade 1 student questioned the excessive workload given by a private school, she was told, “That’s how it has always been done here.” Schools need to embrace research and consider the educational outcomes, rather than look at satisfying the expectations of a few parents. Additionally, if it is as ineffective as many are suggesting, a teacher’s time is surely better spent on more critical classroom matters.

As a psychologist and educator of more than 30 years, I established a no homework policy at Edworks. The research has proven us correct.

Rather than dictate, we encourage children to decide if and when they want to complete tasks at home. This promotes independent learning and ownership of the skills being developed. A review of the hundreds of testimonials from parents and students at our centres points to just how effective this strategy has been.

Essentially, we recognise the importance of monitoring the progress of students; not only on a week-to-week, month-to-month and year-to-year basis, but throughout the course of a single session, too. This way, we can ensure students remain on track and employ all of the necessary processes and skills required to produce the highest standard of work they are capable of. Parents find that half an hour spent at Edworks is more valuable for students than multiple hours working at home.

Finally, for those parents who are steadfast in their support of homework, Edworks has found that it is, most commonly, used more as a PR tool than anything else. As Professor Walker suggests, “In a lot of schools, the executive, the principal and deputy will emphasise homework because they know it’s good public relations: they know that parents are concerned about it. But a lot of teachers think it is a bit of a waste of time.”

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