It is often a question asked of many teachers and parents alike of what age should a child be given homework. I’m personally one for giving homework if it is necessary to support the child’s particular learning, so if it is just a case of the child needs a bit more practice then set them a bit of homework to give them that. I don’t believe it should be compulsory early on though. Another interesting perspective on this came up in the Telegraph yesterday.
Primary-age pupils should be effectively exempt from homework because it is damaging childhood and creating tensions between families, a private school head has warned.
Teachers should stop setting work until the final few years of primary education to prevent pupils being overloaded at a young age, said Dawn Moore, head of King Alfred School, north London. She said that virtually all schools in the state and independent sector had “firmly embedded” policies on regular homework for children aged five to 11.
Previous guidelines introduced by Labour had suggested an hour of work a week for infants aged up to the age of seven, rising to half an hour a night for those in the final four years of primary education.But Mrs Moore said the practice may be damaging to children’s education and home life.
She said pupils needed “downtime” and the opportunity to play outdoors after school, insisting that homework created too much tension in the between parents and children.
“I really question how beneficial homework is, particularity for the younger primary age children,” she said. “I have been quite concerned about this idea of children doing two or three hours of homework a night at the age of eight or nine.”
The comments were made before a homework conference next weekend at the £15,900-a-year school, which is billed as a progressive and “informal” institution.
Debate surrounding the amount – and type – of homework set for children has intensified in recent years, particularly in primary schools. The Association of Teachers and Lecturers has previously called for a ban on compulsory homework for primary-age children, saying that children should be able to explore, experiment and enjoy learning without feeling pressured.
A number of schools have also introduced individual curbs on homework. This includes the Jane Austen College in Norwich – one of the government’s flagship free schools – which expects pupils to do all their work during normal timetabled hours.
It represents a significant shift following pressure from the previous Labour government to ensure children were set up to two and a half hours of homework each night. Under the old guidelines introduced in 1998, primary schools were told to set an hour of homework a week for children aged five to seven, rising to half an hour a night for seven-to-11-year-olds. Secondary schools were told to set 45 to 90 minutes a night for pupils aged 11 to 14, and up to two-and-a-half hours a night for those aged 14 to 16.
But the guidance was axed by Michael Gove, the former Education Secretary, amid claims head teachers should be given the final say on work outside of school hours.
Speaking to the Telegraph, Mrs Moore said her school did not introduce children to basic homework until Year 5 – when pupils are aged nine-to-10. By the age of 11, they are required to do one hour a week – typically receiving a project on a Friday and handing it in the following week.
“I think children have a very busy day at school and when they get home they’re often quite tired and need some downtime,” she said. “When we were kids we used to go out to play and get a lot of fresh air and there’s a huge amount of value in that.”
She added: “One of the things that worry me most is when families get into situations where the whole evening gets tense because of the amount of homework that needs to get done – trying to squeeze homework in between school and having a bath and going to bed.”
She insisted homework should only be set for older children “if it is worthwhile” and usually linked directly linked to a lesson. “I feel that it can lead to demotivation and finding learning somewhat boring,” she said. “It is not about seeing how it can help them explore their curiosity; it is about ticking boxes. I say to all of my teachers, only set homework if there’s a point to it. Don’t set it for the sake of it.”
Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: “A modest amount of homework for older primary age children – Key Stage 2 – is appropriate but it shouldn’t be extensive amounts on a daily basis. It can be helpful particularly for practising spellings and times tables for doing little projects where they can build projects with their family.But you can certainly overdo it on the homework front and there needs to be some space for childhood. There also needs to be some space for children to relax and recover. We find that they learn better in the classroom when that’s enabled.”
I have to say I don’t completely agree with the fact that it’s not appropriate to give homework to younger children. It’s not about giving the homework, it’s about how you use it. As I said earlier, giving homework is a useful tool if the child needs additional help with an objective. I don’t agree with giving any child homework for the sake of giving them homework, no matter what age they are. I have seen homework used as either consolidation for the previous topic, or as a starter point for the next topic. I’m not too convinced by the latter reason as you always end up questioning how much the child actually knew that or how much of it was the parents helping out.