Homework – A Thorny Issue

“Homework is one of the thorniest issues at primary level”. Not my words but those of Peter Mullen of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, in an article in the Irish Examiner in November 2013.

Untitled design (1)The Department of Education in Ireland has no formal policy on the length of time homework should take. I’m going to repeat that – there is no national policy on the length of time that homework should take or how much homework is given.  Each school is free to make its own policy.  In many ways, the lack of a formal policy is a good thing. Nobody wants a situation where home work is done with a stopwatch – not a second more, not a second less.

Homework is a contentious issue.  Some parents rate teachers based on how much homework they give – too much & the teacher mustn’t be teaching them in class at all, too little and the teacher is way too laid back.  Other parents decide that a school is more or less academic than other schools based on the amount of homework given. The consensus being that the longer the students spend on homework the more academic (and therefore better) the school.

I know of one parent, who decided that the teacher, who was also the principal, wasn’t giving enough homework to the class. That parent went to town on the teacher, who gave in and increased the homework from 30 – 40 min to 2.5 hours per night!  The pupils were in 4th class and no other parents were consulted before the massive increase in workload.  The fact that there isn’t a formal national policy gave the other parents little comeback when this happened.  The school set the policy.

There is a lot more to doing homework than the time it takes to do it but giving a timeframe is at least an easy guideline for parents.  However, when I checked the homework policies of various national schools on time to be spent on homework in sixth class, some schools recommend up to 50% more time than others.

An article in The Irish Teachers’ Journal in November 2014 entitled ‘An Evaluation of the Utility of Homework in Irish Primary School Classrooms’ by Joanne Jackson and Lorraine Harbison, concluded that,  based on their research  it is not the giving of homework per se that is of value but that the type of homework that is administered is more important.

They go on to say:

Homework remains a central part of the primary school curriculum that affects teachers and teaching, children and learning, families and home-school communication. Despite this reality, there is limited evidence on the utility of homework. As with the findings of Van Voorhis (2004), too little attention has been given to the purposes of homework and communication between home and school about homework policies. Communication should work both ways, but all the literature refers to home-school communication in relation to homework rather than what could really be deemed the more appropriate term, school-home!

A number of key themes arose during the questionnaire, namely the lack of knowledge of the expectations of parents, partially due to the homework policy being poorly communicated to parents and the juxtaposition of positive and negative views of homework amongst parents. Even more disappointing, is the absence of the voice of the child in the debate although the curriculum advocates that children should be active agents in their own learning rather than submissive partakers. What is apparent is that radical overhaul of homework needs to take place and it is vital that all involved are given opportunities to voice opinions in order to develop the most effective strategies possible which will maximise children’s learning potential.

In March 2015 the UK newspaper The Telegraph ran a story called ‘Homework around the world: how much is too much?’ In it they claim that there is little data on how much time primary school students spend working on homework, but studies have failed to find any relationship between time spent of homework during primary school and academic achievement.

Untitled design (2)The debate continues in secondary school. The amount of time secondary school children spend on homework varies hugely around the world, depending on the pressures and expectations of each country.

According to the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and various education research partners, 15-year-olds in Shanghai spend the most amount of time on homework, at an average of 13.8 hours per week. Students in Finland spend just 2.8 hours on homework per week, but manage to still perform well on academic tests, despite the correlation between time spent on homework and success. British 15-year-olds spend an average of 4.9 hours per week on homework, which is exactly the same as the overall OECD average.

Ireland was not included in the list of 62 countries.

Elaine Sparling is the creator of the Hummingbird Learning Method® and is about to launch an online version of their the popular workshop The Secrets to Successful Spelling™ . Based in Adare, Co Limerick and now also in Tralee Co Kerry, she works with clients on a one to one basis and can be contacted on 087-2996054 or through their website www.hummingbirdlearning.com



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