Ask any parent of a child of school age what their biggest bugbear is and you can near on guarantee that up there at the top will be homework. From the horror-filled realisation that you haven’t done it as the clock strikes wine o’clock on a Sunday evening, to the sinking feeling you get knowing you’ve got to spend half term writing a project about ‘what you did during half term’, homework can be a parenting drain. So much so that one father of six has decided to ban his children from doing it.
Parenting expert, Justin Coulson, has written a blog explaining why he doesn’t believe homework is necessarily beneficial and why he won’t be letting his six daughters spend time doing it.
Dr Coulson said that while most parents ‘endorse’ homework, few enjoy it and many teachers are not ‘fond of the extra work’ either.
“Surprising to many parents (and teachers) is the growing body of evidence that indicates that homework for primary school-aged children is not helpful and may actually have a negative impact on their learning outcomes,” he wrote.
“As a result, until my children’s school banned homework, I actually banned my children from doing homework before high school.”
While Dr Coulson said he didn’t believe homework was the “devil,” he doesn’t think it’s making a “helpful difference for most kids in primary school.”
And he’s certainly not the only one to share that opinion. Last year a school in Scotland announced they were stopping setting homework for their pupils. Instead, the children would be encouraged to read books that interest them and play. It followed the Essex secondary school that’s scrapped the traditional approach to homework, allowing pupils to choose tasks rather than having a set amount of work to be completed.
Meanwhile in Spain parents went on a homework strike in protest over the large amounts of homework their children were being set. Parents from 12,000 schools nationwide boycotted their children’s homework for the entire month of November last year. The Spanish Alliance of Parents’ Associations (CEAPA), which called the strike, argues that homework is detrimental to children.
It’s a view shared by Dr Coulson. Detailed in the letter he sends to his children’s school every year, Dr Coulson outlines the reasons he won’t be encouraging his daughters to carry out homework. In the first “scientific” reason he cites the fact that for young children (under around age 14-15 years) there is no scientific research which supports the inclusion of homework in their after-school activities. “Indeed, even researchers who advocate that homework can be a good thing concede that in the primary school years, it’s impact is negligible,” he writes.
Another reason Dr Coulson includes in his blog for his anti-homework stance is the fact that he believes it can create an extra burden on parents, leading to family conflict. It’s a view shared by Jo Otto, former teacher, mum-of-two and founder of educational app Maths Rockx, which teaches kids times tables through music. “Homework at primary school age can often require some kind of guidance from an adult, so parents HAVE to help,” she says.
“The trouble is, parents of primary school children are often time poor so this can add extra stress on all involved. Children are tired and restless, parents are tired and busy and it ultimately creates pressure and frustration for both and essentially it can become a battle.”
Recent research by Butlins also seems to suggest that homework is having an increasing impact on family life. The survey revealed that more than half (55%) of parents spend more than 40 hours a year trying to keep up with the latest school curriculum. While 36% feel completely unable to assist their kids with homework leading to feelings of embarrassment and anxiety when they cannot help. Hardly surprising therefore that the subject of homework can bring about family disagreements with a separate survey revealing one in 20 couples admit to regularly arguing about homework.
Other reasons Dr Coulson cites for not wanting his children to do homework include the fact that homework is “generally not inspiring” and that it does not “prepare kids for ‘later’.”
“They can usually adapt pretty well when they turn 14 or 15 without having 8 years of practice under their belt before it all starts,” he wrote before explaining that he believes homework is actually “driving kids away from learning.”
However, the parenting expert does believe that a reading and research projects, which interest children, or which they are studying at school are helpful and advocates parents encouraging their kids to read both before and after school every day.
Dr Jonathan Doherty, Research and Development Lead for Primary Education in the Institute of Childhood and Education at Leeds Trinity University agrees with Dr Coulson that the key to successful outside school learning depends on the type and amount of homework that pupils are given.
“The best ‘homework’ are activities that extend what is being taught at school and engages the child to further their knowledge.” Explains Dr Jonathan Doherty. “Often this is very practical, for example trips and visits, first hand learning and done with the involvement of parents, becomes even more powerful.”
Dr Coulson concludes his blog by urging parents to make the decision about homework on a child by child basis.
“If your kids are doing ok in primary school, they don’t need it,” he writes. “If they want to do it, that’s up to you. If they don’t, it would seem they don’t need it. If your kids are struggling, talk with your teacher. Consider your individual circumstances. And listen to your child.”
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