The Value of Homework

The Value of Homework

The Value of Homework

Homework has been with us for as long as we have had schools and it seems always to have been the subject of debate.

Yet even in the relatively recent past, homework was not as universal as it is now. Only twenty years ago, just 60% primary schools made their pupils do homework but as pressure for results has increased, so has the ubiquity of homework.

Of course, there are always rebels, particularly amongst primary school heads. Every year there are headlines in the education pages of the newspapers reporting that a head teacher somewhere has abolished homework in favour of allowing children to relax and enjoy the freedom to play in their childhood. Opponents of homework often cite the American academic Alfie Kohn in support of their argument. Kohn wrote the influential study “The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.’ Reflecting on his research Kohn observes, ‘What surprised me is not the downside of homework, but the fact there appears to be no upside. No study has ever shown an academic benefit to homework before high school.’

The orthodox arguments in favour of homework are well rehearsed. Homework is the consolidation of work completed in class. It seems to make objective sense that if homework allows for more time to be spent studying a subject, then achievement in that subject should improve.

For younger children, homework draws parents into the child’s learning through listening to increasingly confident reading of the adventures of Chip and Kipper or through painting the final turret on a papier-mâché model of a Norman Castle. For older students, working independently at home, with time for quiet reflection, can make a qualitative as well as a quantitative difference to learning giving children the opportunity to gain the subject mastery which derives from developing a truly personal understanding of a topic. In my school in creative subjects, such as Art, homework gives time and space for individual research and exploration. Homework can invite pupils to visit local galleries, research artists online or take photographs of local buildings or landscapes which can be used to inform their class work.

Technology has transformed ideas about homework allowing ‘flipped classroom’ to become the norm in schools with Virtual Learning Environments. VLEs allow pupils to access videos and online content from home. So that teachers can dispense with the instructional element of the lesson as pupils arrive in the classroom ready to discuss ideas and debate higher level concepts.

Perhaps the strongest argument in favour of homework is our instinctive feeling that, in a world of noisy distractions and endless opportunities for entertainment, inculcating in young people the habit of self-motivated and self-disciplined study must be a good thing.

Angela Drew Headmistress,
Bromley High School GDST
020 8468 7981

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