Sunday, September 28, 2008

Against homework

On the subject of education, I'm confident that History will vindicate me and show that I was right about absolutely everything. I concede there's a long way to go here - but one does get the occasional glimpse of a zeitgeist moving in the right direction. As ranted about in the post below, the penny seems to be dropping that relentless testing and targets are smothering education. And today I've learned that it isn't only me that thinks homework is more or less a complete waste of human energy:
"A top-ranking state school has slashed the amount of homework set, saying that too much of it can be "depressing" and put children off learning.

Tiffin boys’ school, at Kingston upon Thames, southwest London, has called in all new Year 7 parents to explain that homework schedules are to be scaled back and replaced with a programme of independent learning.

"We felt that homework was taking over," Gary James, the deputy head, said. "We had boys doing three or four hours a night at the expense of sports, music practice or simply having fun. Something’s not right when a boy can’t sit down and watch a nature documentary on TV because he’s too busy doing maths. Ultimately I don’t think we should set homework at all.""
A depute who thinks 'simply having fun' is part of being young? How cool is that? Plus others agree. From the same peice:
"Martin Johnson, deputy general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, which has called for an end to homework in primary schools and a scaling-back at secondary level, said that homework had been 'mindlessly lauded by successive governments and pushy parents'."
On balance 'pushy parents' are probably better than those that don't give a damn but boy are they intense. One of the ways they express this is by being completely obsessed with homework.

"Ooh, is he getting enough?", asks angsty parent with furrowed brow.

Man, someone's not getting enough but it isn't homework and it's not your boy. You feel like saying, "Look, your indolent son only ever makes a half-assed effort at anything he's set in class - and that's with me standing over him wearing the most menacing countenance I can muster. What's the point of getting him to repeat at home the same crud he produces in class?"

But you don't, of course - because the orthodoxy is that homework is a Good Thing. More signs that this might be changing though:
"Nottingham East academy, which will have 3,570 pupils, claims it will be the first school to scrap homework. It will instead have an extra lesson and after-school activities such as sport, model aircraft-building and sari-making."
That's a ridiculous size for a school. Still, they're getting some things right. Sari-making is clearly a more productive use of pupils' time than homework. I'm serious. Saris are useful things whereas the average piece of homework is an exercise in futility. It goes without saying that while the evidence to support this view is mounting, there are still rather a lot of people in denial:
"However, Professor Dylan Wiliam, deputy director of the Institute of Education at London University, said Day was going too far. "Research shows homework does not make much of a difference, but..."
Stop right there Prof. Not really interested in your opinions on why this is so. Apart from anything else, it's rather distracting from the first part of your statement which relates a fact that is not at all well-known. Could you repeat it?
"Research shows homework does not make much of a difference."

Next thing you know people will realise that class, not ephemeral nonsense about 'faith' and 'ethos', is the key to understanding the differentiation in educational outcomes - or that completing a full game of bullshit bingo in the first half hour of every in-service day isn't helping anyone learn anything - except perhaps something rather unpleasant about the human condition. If this happened, I could almost become an optimist. But this is unlikely in my lifetime. So I won't.

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