The demise of homework

The real challenges of being a teacher are unbeknown to those not involved within the education sector. The profession is fraught with unacceptably long working hours, unrealistic deadlines and increasing administration expectations being placed on teachers by schools that are perceived to be in an almost constant state of flux. Those unique individuals that undertake the admirable challenge of making a real and profound difference to the lives of students around the world through the art of teaching need to be held in the highest regard and actively celebrated. Despite this, there are growing concerns in the UK that the task of being a teacher is slowly becoming impossible.

Are we running out of teachers?

We are at a time when teachers are leaving the profession faster than ever before, with 2 out of 5 teachers walking away from the classroom within three years of starting and the government missing their own teacher recruitment targets for 4 years in a row. Teachers are citing long working hours and unmanageable workloads as their main reasons for having had enough. Something has to change, and quickly, to address the current teacher shortage that schools are experiencing up and down the country. Malcolm Trobe, interim general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, has said recently that the current situation is severe, adding that they were “jeopardising standards”.

Time to get radical

One school in Colchester, Essex has undertaken a profound approach to reduce the workload pressures on their teachers by trying to free up more of their time to plan their lessons more effectively. Ask any student the one thing they hate most about going to school, and they’re more likely to say the dreaded ‘H’ word – yes, homework!

We all know about the merits of testing your pupil’s ability to demonstrate their understanding of the course material while undertaking responsibility to proactively carry out work outside of the school environment. But is homework actually causing more unintended problems behind the scenes?

The Philip Morant School and College believes so, and has gone ahead and scrapped all homework. They’re not the first school in the country to ban homework, but in doing so they have told their staff that time previously spent allocating and assessing homework must now be spent on planning more inspirational and effective lessons.

School principal Catherine Hutley acknowledges that this is a controversial approach, but valiantly justifies her actions by acknowledging ‘there are not enough hours in the day for a teacher to teach, set homework, mark homework, and plan their lessons’. More worrying, Ms Hutley also suggested that homework at her school often consisted of unfinished curriculum work which had not been completed in class.

The approach, as expected, has not been met with universal approval, and it doesn’t mean pupils won’t be working from home.  One parent has commented: ‘My daughter has never been a big fan of homework so she’s really chuffed about the new policy. But I’ve told her that it doesn’t meant she’s off the hook as I am going to make sure she’s still studying for a couple of nights each week.’

Are teachers actually teaching?

The very nature and expectations of what a teacher should be doing is not so subtlety hidden in their job title. They should be in the classroom with their students with the sole aim of imparting knowledge and helping them prepare for life ahead. One of the largest surveys by the Organisation for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) revealed that teachers in England worked on average more than 48 hours a week, with one teacher in 10 reporting to working weeks of 65 hours or more. However, the survey also found that teachers only spent about 20 hours a week in the classroom with the remainder of their time doing administrative tasks, lesson preparation and marking homework. Even in the classroom, nearly 20% of teachers’ time is taken up with keeping order and further administration; just 16 hours of a 48-hour average full-time working week is spent on teaching and learning with pupils.

Tell us what you think!

What are the consequences of this? Yes, many students will be celebrating, parents may be unsure, and no doubt teachers will be in favour of having their workloads reduced somewhat. Is homework necessary and does it serve a beneficial purpose? A recent study published by the Department for Education found that homework made a positive difference to attainment, observing that ‘pupils who did two to three hours of homework a day were almost 10 times more likely to achieve five good GCSEs than students who did not spend any time on homework’.

This poses some serious questions. Do you feel homework is beneficial? Would a reduction or complete dismissal of homework fully address the real problems behind teachers leaving the profession and why they are working so many hours? What would the long-term consequences be if we removed homework from the fabric of the education system?

Let us have your thoughts below. We can’t wait to see them!

17 thoughts on “The demise of homework

  1. I am a Year 6 teacher at an independent school with the 11+ exams impending for my students. We are expected to set 1.5 hours of homework 4 nights week which amount to the setting and marking of 6 hours work a week, on top of lessons. It is completely unmanageable to stay on top of this all and is the biggest cause of stress in my job. Although I sometimes use self and peer assessment to mark the homework, I feel I can’t do this too often as (apart from the fact that I get a less clear picture of how each child has performed) I worry that the parents will not find this acceptable when they see their children’s books. Unfortunately I teach in a part of the country where the competition for places in independent secondary schools is very high and so this level of homework seems to be what is expected in order to fully prepare the students. I think that both the students and teachers alike would be better off with half the quantity of homework.

  2. It’s not the homework per se that is the problem. It’s the demand to set it and mark it and record it, when we have no idea whether the students actually did it independently.
    Homework and marking are a given part of teaching. We go into the job fully aware of this. The constant interference from management, often with little or no knowledge of the subject, the demands for duplication of data, inclusion of ridiculous extra testing, often required to be standardised and even WRITTEN by non-specialist staff, the constraints forced upon teachers about how to teach, the presumption that all students will be engaged by often puerile activities and the sheer number of pointless meetings to discuss these things, followed by a blatant dismissal of our views are the things that cause teachers( who are mostly still passionate about their profession) to elect to leave. These teachers CHOSE to teach……let them teach or let them go. Your loss!

  3. I’m a parent of home educated children who entered school at different stages from AS level to Year 7 as well as a teacher of a variety of subjects in sub Saharan Africa. Prior to entering school our children didn’t encounter SATs, any form of examination or “homework” though, of course, all their work was mainly self induced “home” work. They have all excelled in their individual ways regardless, because they are self motivated self educators with a home life which encourages exploration, reduces stress, encourages creativity and so forth. Teachers have more than the “sole aim of imparting knowledge and helping [students] prepare for life ahead” as stated in the article above; I hope they impart enthusiasm for self motivated learning and work to increase self esteem. They can not do this by themselves … it is a teacher/parent responsibility … which they will do so much better without increased stress of homework (teachers) and ensuring that their children do “at least 40 min each evening per subject for homework” (parents) as cited in a guide recently sent home from our otherwise good school. My reaction to the Colchester school is WELL DONE for moving against the stress tide, with a proviso for something to fill the space e.g. encourage SELF motivation for the students to discover more about their subjects and to be positively reinforced when they discuss and share what they learn in the classroom (verbally, through technology, through action etc). It should not become another “stress” but a motivator to the students who do not want to participate to sit up, take notice and perhaps act from their own reserves. We want so much more for our children than just copies of ourselves and the mistakes in our own style of education.

  4. Definitely get rid of it! Better for both the students and the teachers.
    If material needs to have a go-over with some students groups, the school could engage a TA to do it IN the school ON the same say after school hours – it would cost the school 1 hour TA’s time per day/per subject (but not all subjects will need it). Teachers would be able to concentrate on delivering better lessons.

  5. Homework: I make booklets at the beginning of each half term and treasury-tag them to the students’ workbooks. II submit the booklet to SMHW – another admin task! I get the students to peer mark them and complete the Wow How Now sticker – peer marking sorted! I flick through the homeworks when I mark the books and make a not of who hasn’t done it. It’s not just the homeworks that are causing all the work. It’s following up behaviour with phone calls, setting detentions, logging it all on SIMS that sucks up PPA time. The ever-increasing robustness of marking classwork with WINS stickers, which have to be revisited to ensure the kids have responded to your comments and extra questions sucks up time too. I love teaching, love the kids, love the challenge but there are times when I wonder what I’m doing to my family and myself when I’m working until gone 10 o’clock in the week and stretches of hours during the weekend! We are teachers, not bouncers, not admin. We just want to teach and we’d be better teachers if we had a decent work-life balance.

  6. If students don’t do homework then they don’t experience doing school work at home. When they need to revise then the idea of working at home is alien to them and they either struggle to do it or don’t do it at all. It’s all about training students to be good students. Pointless homework is pointless but good homework develops skills and independent learning. It can also be challenging and fun for students helping them to engage with their subject content. With positive support from both teachers AND parents the students learn to understand that sometimes small sacrifices are required for their long term good and that hard work pays off. Peer marking of homework once back in class enables the group to work as a team, ensuring that issues are identified and support put in place. This increases student involvement in their and others learning, reduces teacher workload and allows the teacher to focus his/her attention on support where it is needed.

  7. Andrew Hartley seems to have the best grasp of the value of homework and how to make it less onerous. In my subjects, like many, there is always a lot of content to assimilate and, even up to A level, I use homeworks mainly as an opportunity for students to learn the necessary content. Marking is a test in class and those who fail to do their homework are easily identified. It also gives me something objective to put in my reports and discuss with parents at parents’ evenings. I prefer to leave skills development to the classroom.

  8. I agree with Franks. Although there is a lot of truth in the other points made, I have to set homework (especially at KS4 and 5) because I have not got sufficient curriculum time to teach the whole curriculum. But homework is for the students to gain knowledge (which doesn’t require specialist input, so long as the task has been set correctly) or to prepare for a test; the classroom is for skills development and ‘therapy’ (which does require specialist input). I never ‘mark’ homework, only the practice exam questions that the students write after having done their homework. I still work 50-60 hours a week, however, marking the tests and doing all the other nonsensical, irrelevant administrative rubbish that we’re forced to do.

    It would be far better to ban irrelevant nonsense, so teachers can use their time effectively marking the work that needs to be marked … and being able to devote the right amount of time to it.

  9. Why the teachers get frustrated and leave their profession is that we have some problems in our education system which we are not sincerely interested for addressing.
    1. We lack discipline in our schools. We give too much independence to our children and students. Students in our schools are not mature and so because of this independence they start doing what they like and at the same time start disrespecting and misbehaving with the teacher. Compared to this, think over the life style of Muslim Countries where, as per Islamic Principles they teach and practice the discipline and we see the resources with them may be low but their children behave in the schools and end of the day they score good grades.
    2. So many teachers here they do not teach as an owned responsibility. They do not check the home work and remain writing good, very good on the homework of their students. Parents also do not check the homework of their children and the result is the child starts getting weaker and weaker in his/her study and starts doing other things like misbehaving, creating problems for the teacher. When the student is engaged, they do not make problems for the teacher.
    3. We have to think, are we ourselves honest ? Are we giving equal opportunities to the parents and teachers from different cultural background. Are we bringing unity, oneness or if we are creating cultural background hatred. We have to consider all these aspects for improving teaching and learning in our schools.

  10. If homework enables children to apply textbook concepts to solve problems in their home environment or to relate textbook concepts to home environment, it would certainly be very beneficial. If it is just an extension of classwork, it is not of much use. For example, when teaching angles to primary school children, teachers can ask children to measure the angle of their own shirt collar. Home work is necessary as long as it doesn’t overload children and teachers.

  11. Interesting comment to do or not to do homework. When I was at school many moon’s ago, everyone got lots of homework and then I always thought why? Then we go into the working environment and have to work to schedules. Now we are talking, how to plan your time effectively, work life balance. Though most of my homework was done in break and heavy pieces completed at Lunch, the evening was spent training on most nights. So therefore homework is a great way for people to learn how to manage time and not leaving things until the last minute before undertaking homework/project. Excessive homework should be limited to a maximum of one hour a night.

  12. I disagree with homework completely, for the stress on teachers, students and parents. Our society needs to wake up to what’s really important.

    I comletely appreciate what Andrew is saying re. revision but again I think that the truth in tests should be what the children have ‘learnt’ i.e. what they ‘know’ and what has sunk in, surely that would give a more accurate measure of the child’s knowledge and genuine interest.

    We have too much empahis on tests and results and we need more emphasis on what children naturally excel in to actually help signpost them in the ‘right’ direction when they leave school on work that they would find fulfilling and would not cause them an on-going stressful life.

  13. i have retired eraly because i have had enough of the learning walks, scrutiny, department reviews, book looks, cutting of resources, high expectations beyond whatb the students are capable of. i give schools about 5 years before the whole system collapses at its current rate. i got out before i lost my mind,,,,early retirement on 12,0000 a year pension at 59 years old, not great but better than a nervous breakdon or mental collapse, better poor than working as a teacher, i am now rebuilding myself back to being….a human being. it feels great, do i miss teaching?,,only the lovely kids, but what have they got to do with education anyway!! Its all results, data and accountability. plus of course lots of middle and upper managers who do not teach and walk around in suits telling us all how to do it and getting lots of money to do so! Targets, grade, value added ect ect ect.

  14. I am a year 6 teacher and we set homework every week for English and maths as we are desperately trying to prepare our children for the end of KS2 assessments. We usually focus on grammar, punctuation and spelling in English so that we can cover the curriculum as we don’t seem to always have time. However, more recently I have been focusing on the children’s reading and setting them research activities; some of these have been science related and others focusibg on other aspects of the curriculum such as finding out about an alternative civilization. I feel that this has been extremely beneficial and has allowed the children to excel as they have taken ownership of their own learning. I love teaching but I feel that sometimes the work load and stress can be unmanageable.

  15. As a parent of a child who does swimming lessons, rainbows and dance class. After school club until I can collect her from after work at 6pm. There is little or no room for homework, if it is done over a rushed tea, there is little research/ self thought that goes into her homework, as it I stuggle to get her to think about what she is looking at and have actually just seen her copy the details from a webpage and then rush to get her uniform off to dress for the next thing. Add in bath, story time, she is exhausted. I have asked her if we should give up her dance class etc and the look of horror on her face when I state no homework, no class. I personally thinkthat these extra classes is just as important for the physical and mental health it promotes, homework is added stress and I think it is too much. Once a week for a project to do over the weekend/ holiday period, where time can be allocated and actual time to digest what she is looking at and take it in (Quality reflection time) is more helpful then a quick rush job for her and her teachers time in their “good job” remarks. .

  16. I am a Primary headteacher in an International English School in the Middle East. I find that it is often parents who are driving the demand for more homework and who prefer, written exercises and worksheets or booklets of ‘evidence’ from as young as Year one students. I have pursued a policy of asking staff to set more creative or skill based language and reading activities for weekends, preparing a talk for the class, mini-research projects, writing a play or song, learning a musical instrument, cooking with parents, learning an everyday practical skill rather than content heavy academic focussed tasks. Parents here also bring inept tutors to further torment children who should be enjoying their childhood before the real world takes over. My view is that we should try to make learning fun and interesting like the lessons we should be teaching, when this happens behavior problems diminish and children look forward to coming to School and going home at night to tell their parents what they have been doing.

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