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'Unfair' homework should be banned

Article | Published in TES Newspaper on 27 April, 2001 | By: Julie Henry

An American book says pupils should stay after school to do assignments with teachers on site. Julie Henry reports

HOMEWORK should be banned and the school day lengthened so that pupils can do work set by their teachers on the premises, according to a new book.

The anti-homework lobby in America says onerous out-of-school assignments disrupt families, overburden pupils and limit learning. And they are unfair on those pupils from the poorest backgrounds.

Instead, they want to see the secondary school day extended by two hours so students can do extra work with teachers and resources on hand.

Research into high school drop-outs by Etta Kralovec, a former teacher and co-author of The End of Homework, found that all blamed falling behind with homework as a major demotivator.

The disparity between pupils with highly-educated parents, who had time to help and computers at home, and those who did not were magnified by the practice of homework. She said: "Homework appears to disadvantage children by assuming they have a quiet, well-lit place to study. We know a perfect place, far away from the TV, which meets all those requirements - the schoolhouse."

Ms Kralovec argues that the evidence that daily doses of homework lead to academically accomplished students is inconclusive, and that there is no case at all for setting such studies for primary-age children.

Her claim is backed up by a 1999 study by King's College, London, academics who found that nine-year-olds who did maths homework twice a week did no better than those who tackled suchtasks only occasionally.

But a wide body of research reports that homework gives older children an edge. Dr Harris Cooper, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri and author of two papers on the subject, argues that the case for homework is sound.

However, he does acknowledge that overloading children with it in the early years can ruin motivation.

A number of surveys show that the time spent doing homework is increasing both here and abroad. A recent study by the University of Michigan found older students spent 134 minutes a night on extra studies.

And in Britain, Government guidelines advise 20 minutes a day for eight-year-olds, rising to 30 minutes for 10 and 11-year-olds and up to two-and-a-half hours at GCSE level. Homework remains popular with parents and is one of the most frequently cited school shortcomings indicated in Office for Standards in Education parent surveys.

* Homework clubs and other out-of-school activities boost pupils' results, attendance and attitude to school, according to research carried out by the National Youth Agency and the University of Strathclyde, which analysed 8,000 pupils in 53 UK schools between 1997 and 2000. Youngsters who take part in study support get better GCSE results than their peers of equal ability who do not participate, scoring an average of 3.5 grades more on their best five GCSE results, and get one more A-C pass.

'The End of Homework' by Etta Kralovec and John Buell, published by Beacon Books, £20.

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