My eldest started school in September. When we went to view schools one questions I always asked was, “What’s your homework policy?” I was adamant that I didn’t want her to go to a school that pressured them with homework. She is four. She doesn’t need that in her life and what’s more, I don’t need it in my life. In the end, we ended up sending her to a school that we never viewed or asked for. It’s a great school, but don’t get me started on the homework.
There is literally shed loads of research on this topic. You can read about the link between homework and anxiety, or a comparison of homework loads in different countries in relation to levels of income and social inequality (spoiler: countries with lower incomes and higher social inequality have higher homework loads). There are studies linking homework and sleep disruption and a host of other research that suggests, pretty convincingly that there’s little benefit to be gained from homework for primary school kids and what benefit there might be is probably outweighed by the negative effects it can have.
All that aside, on a personal note, homework is a massive pain in my ass. Apart from the fact that the communication from the school regarding homework and expectations is woeful – Is it obligatory? How long do they have to do it? How much should we be helping them? – I’m simply drowning in it. Each week, my eldest has the following:
- A homework sheet with 6-7 tasks surrounding the topic they’ve been covering in school. For example, ‘Can your child retell the story? What words can they use to describe the characters? Can they draw a picture of the story and write words to describe the scene?’
- They have two phonics-based reading books that must be read each week.
- They have a library story book that we should read with them.
- They have to learn to read by sight individual words (10 at a time) that they are tested on each week until they pass those words and then move up.
- They have a stapled pack of 4 sheets each focussing on a ‘sound’ / ‘letter’. They have to write a line of the letter and colour in the picture.
I can see the value in each one of these things but I can’t see the value in doing all of these things every week. The mornings (after breakfast and before school) seem to be the optimal time for Billie to focus on reading, or words, or sounds, or writing but between two kids, cereal everywhere, two adults getting ready for work, the last minute uniform ironing session and a shit-fit here and there, it’s not really optimal for me. After school, the last thing I want to do is sit her straight down to ‘work’ again and then by the time she’s had a snack and a rest, getting her to do anything is like knitting with spaghetti. Inevitably, it ends in bribery and the ensuing homework session is like getting blood from a very tired, grumpy stone.
At first, she was delighted to do homework. It was a novelty. It was grown up. It was the next step. It was exciting. Now though, it’s a chore just like brushing teeth and tidying the living room. It’s an exercise in ticking boxes and frankly, I’m done with it. They say the homework is not ‘obligatory’ but, you know, it is. No one has yet to put their head above the intimidating school parapet and say, “So, we’re not going to worry too much about homework. Hope that’s ok?” but I’m going to not just for the sake of mine and Billie’s sanity but, most importantly, for the sake of her love of learning.
She’s voracious in her appetite for learning. She loves language, she loves words. She loves creating stories and drawing pictures. She loves adding and counting and reading and no matter how ‘good’ she gets at those things, no matter how academic she is or isn’t, what’s important is that we cultivate a love of learning, an appetite for information. Pinning her down to the kitchen table and bribing her to learn with chocolate ice-cream, is not the way to do that.
I used to be a high-school teacher – English – and the homework policy was dictated by the school. I was told how much homework I had to set for each year group and even though I complied by this policy, I was painfully aware of how much homework they were getting every single night. I tried to make the homework as painless and useful as possible but after easing up a bit on my exam groups, I remember being told to ‘set more homework’ after their homework diaries had been checked. It made me question why I was setting it. If I was setting it to facilitate and support their learning then surely the amount would vary according to what we did and didn’t do in the classroom? Surely, as their teacher, I had the responsibility to set the homework I felt was necessary? That wasn’t the case though for me when I was teaching and it doesn’t seem to be the case for Billie’s school either.
Instead, it feels like homework is there to be more ‘habit forming’. It appears to be more about discipline than about learning. It feels like it’s designed to ‘get them used to it early on’ rather than to enhance their educational experiences. If that’s the case, then I’m calling bullshit. Nobody made me pay bills when I was four to ‘get me used to it’. No one left me alone in the house overnight as a small child so that I’d be ready for it when I was older. There are some things that small kids don’t need to do or to worry about and for me, homework is one of them.