Homework in the primary school years- the old chestnut again

Homework being assigned to primary school students tends to be a polarising issue. Some educators and parents abhor it, whilst others actively promote it. Love it or hate it, there seems to be very little middle ground within the school environments and amongst parents. However, I think if the children were asked, they would probably sit squarely in the ‘no-homework’ camp.

In addition, over the last 15 years or so, it seems to have been debated ad nauseum with research in favour and research against it being cited depending upon the issue and the author’s stance. It has also been a topic of interest in other media such as talk-back radio shows and some national media programs. It is not just an Australian issue, with homework for primary school children being debated across the globe as noted in this BBC article. One interesting fact from this article is that in 1997 six out of ten UK primary schools advocated the setting of homework on a regular basis. By 1999, this figure had risen to nine out of ten. However, in 2012, the government finally realised that it was a school based decision and they opted out of the debate.

In addition, in Australia, it has been recognised and dealt with at state/territory level with, for example, the Victorian Parliament’s Education and Training Committee, in 2013/14, launching an Inquiry to “look into elements such as evidence supporting the value of homework, the benefits to individual students’ learning, the contribution to discipline and other life skills, and the engagement of parents in student learning”. That Inquiry found strong evidence “and general agreement” that homework had almost no academic benefit for primary-school students, although it may help prepare them for secondary school.

Anecdotally, a quick web search shows that the propensity for articles or reports to surface re homework tends to be much higher in the two to three weeks following most school vacation periods. This probably has something to do with the fact that some schools set ‘projects’ over vacation periods whilst others determine that the vacation period is sacrosanct regarding the setting of any school work.  This recent article in the Canberra Times, highlights how one primary school has taken a stance regarding the homework issue and has freed their teachers up for up to two hours daily from setting and marking homework tasks – basically giving teachers more time in class to teach.

Fiona Baker on the Kidspot website in her article, ‘The Great Homework Debate’ notes that, “According to several studies, there is no evidence that homework benefits achievement during the early school years. US educator Alfie Kohn, author of The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, likens homework to cod liver oil, asking why teachers and parents continue to administer it in the absence of any proven benefits.”

Baker also goes on to note that most state or territory education systems favour some form of homework. She does not identify if this is at primary or secondary school level, however, the reader could assume that this applies across both school environments.

The NSW Department of Education and Training, for example, has a homework page on their website where they highlight the value of homework and also categorise the types of homework to be expected in three phases of schooling, K-2, 2-6 and 7-12. They include tips for parents regarding how they can assist with students and homework. “Homework helps to establish the habits of study, concentration and self-discipline. Parents/caregivers have the opportunity to see the progress of their child. Homework provides challenges and stimulus to gifted and talented children.”

 The Victorian Government notes that ‘the homework set for your child will vary depending on their age, the subject and the school’s approach to homework. The degree of difficulty and length of homework will also be set according to their age and ability’.

In Queensland, there is a government school homework policy which recognises that any school homework policy should be:

  • developed in consultation with the school community;
  • disseminated to the school community;
  • reviewed in consultation with the school community; and
  • informed by the Parent and community engagement framework.

In an earlier School Governance article we noted, particularly with issues such as homework, that some parents, due to a variety of reasons including language barriers, may be unable to, or are embarrassed to, assist their children with after-hours academic studies.  We also argued that academia is only one facet of the education narrative. Parents can assist with social issues, issues of discipline, involvement with local clubs and sporting teams, other pursuits such as the arts or hobbies or the development of religious beliefs. This socio-emotional development cannot possibly take place solely at the school. Most importantly, parents can instil a cultural acceptance that education is valuable and that school and home are both integrally involved in the education of their child.

The Good School’s Guide, which is a very well-known online resource for parents looking to choose a school for their child,  even goes as far as to list the advantages and disadvantages of homework. The headings, without the detail, include:

Advantages

  • Children develop time management and study skills;
  • Students can engage with their studies; and
  • Teachers can keep track of progress.

Disadvantages

  • Homework eats up free time;
  • Excess homework causes children to feel ‘burnt out’; and
  • Homework is rarely valuable.

According to Katie Reilly in a Time article, one of the most comprehensive research pieces on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis of homework research conducted by Professor Harry Cooper of Duke University. Professor Cooper “found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.”

Regardless of which side of the fence a school may sit regarding the homework debate, one fact is quite clear. It is too simplistic to categorise homework as either a good thing or a bad thing.

Schools should ascertain if homework fits within their cultural expectations and if the setting of homework is a valid proposition for children, parents and teachers. Having a homework policy would ensure that teachers are aware of the school’s position regarding homework and the expectations of the children. It would also clarify the school’s overall position with parents and guardians and would ensure that, love it or loathe it, the school’s position with regard to the setting and assessment of homework activities for primary school children is clear to the whole community.

 

About the author

 

Craig D’cruz is the National Education Consultant at CompliSpace. He can be contacted here.

Leave a comment