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Homework and the school day

News that Cargilfield independent school in Edinburgh has "banned" homework, with a consequent benefit for attainment, can be looked at another way: the school day has been extended to 6pm to make it possible. Whether such "detention" would appeal to pupils and teachers in the state sector must be open to doubt. But the extension of the school day suggests that this should be an argument about the way schools organise learning, not about homework.

The Executive, of course, is very keen on homework, believing it is the equivalent of an extra year's schooling and that it is one way of involving parents in what schools are doing. But is there any evidence that homework actually does anything for attainment? Cargilfield's claim is that the reverse is the case (although its improvement in attainment could equally well be attributed to better teaching).

The bottom line surely is that pupils' learning should be capable of being overtaken during the school day; otherwise the fault must lie with the school day. There is also an issue of equity: the more reliance is placed on homework, the more pupils' performance will depend on variable parent interest. As research commissioned by the Executive for The Homework File a few years ago noted, there is some evidence that homework increases the effects of social disadvantage, but none that it achieves its deeper purpose of promoting "personal responsibility, lifelong learning and self-direction".

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