Life

The world would be a better place if we scrapped homework

Having to do hours of homework is exhausting for children, even those who don't struggle academically. It's high time that schools took stock and woke up to the fact that banning homework can lead to higher success rates and happier kids, writes Leona O'Neill

Children are so bogged down by homework that they spend their nights leaning over their books and head to school exhausted in the mornings

MY middle son has recently made the move to post-primary school. Four weeks in and the child is exhausted by the sheer volume of homework he has to do nightly.

The boy's routine now is that he comes home from school at around 4pm, does homework for an hour, heads to football training, comes home and does more homework until near bedtime.

The child is very academic and doesn't struggle with the homework, yet still he has to tell his friends he can't go out, or he can't chill out in front of the TV if he wants, or kick a football about in the garden, because he has an abundance of homework. And combined with training and playing for two football teams, it doesn't really leave him any time just to be a kid.

His friends at other schools are in a similar position and worse. They are so bogged down by homework they don't have their evenings to themselves, spend their nights leaning over their books and head to school exhausted in the mornings. Some of them have given up sports and hobbies they love because they can't handle it all.

Some of my parent friends speak of running battles every evening to get their offspring to do their homework – not ideal if a harmonious house is your goal.

I'm not a big fan of excessive homework. I'm sure I'll not be very popular among educational types, but I feel that kids should be allowed to be kids, recharge after school and relax a little. It makes for happier humans. Sure we need to get the curriculum into their brains but they wont be able to take anything in if they are so tired from the non-stop learnathon that is their waking hours.

That's why I was glad to see a headteacher in a school on Essex put a total ban on homework last week.

Even though her reasons were mainly for the benefit of her teachers, I think Principal Catherine Hutley of Philip Morant School and College in Cochester made the right move. She basically banned homework to allow her teachers more time to plan lessons, hoping that the extra time in the evenings that would have been spent correcting homework might be used to rest and prepare for delivering inspiring lessons.

She says there are simply not enough hours in the day for her teachers to complete all the work they need to. And she says once school is over students will be encouraged to continue learning through the school's websites, with prizes offered for the most dedicated.

I know parents who are at the end of their tether with the new homework regimes. I know parents who come home from a stressful job only to have a battle with their children to get their homework started, never mind done. I know kids who are really struggling with the volume of work. I know parents who have moved their children to other schools were homework isn't so big a 'thing'.

I agree wholeheartedly that stretching our kids academically is a good idea, and I understand that schools set homework to compliment and reinforce and allow practice of what has been taught in the classroom. But perhaps Ms Hutley of Essex has the right idea with her blanket ban of homework. Allowing her teachers time and space to focus of planning and delivering lessons which will inspire and ensure all kids 'get it' before they leave school is perfectly sensible. Allowing kids time to wind down in the evenings will also help their learning experience.

Too much school work at home is counter-productive when pupils have no down time. Rest and relaxation and the space to recharge is hugely important so that children can come in on time, be responsive in class and learn effectively.

Finnish schools don't assign homework because it is assumed that mastery is attained in the classroom.

Finland has long been lauded for having the finest education system in the world. Since the country implemented huge education reforms four decades ago the school system has consistently topped the international ranking of education systems.

Here in the UK, a boarding school in Cheltenham last year scrapped homework in response to what they said was a 'epidemic' of mental health problems. And in 2013, a college in Norwich extended the school day to 5pm and banned homework.

Looking at my boy and his friends, bleary eyed and exhausted with all that learning, I could very well be tempted to relocate to Finland.

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