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Homework gets personal

Pupils in Northumberland are being encouraged to work on pet projects over several weeks. Simeon Brody reports

Traditional nightly homework assignments for pupils studying geography at a Northumberland school have been replaced with personal projects which can last up to half a term.

Rather than write an essay about volcanoes, pupils at Prudhoe community high have been building working models of them for several weeks.

Some students, who were asked to research a family tree, got so enthusiastic that their work covered seven generations.

Samantha Evans, 15, said: "The new homework system is brilliant. We can focus on what our strengths are. The homework we used to get was a given thing, so we couldn't use our creative skills as much."

Teachers give pupils a choice of projects with different potential marks at the start of each term.

Pupils decide, in consultation with teachers and parents, which projects to embark on and what their points target is for the term.

They are encouraged to involve their family. For one project they interview a grandparent to compare the national background of Premiership footballers now with the teams of the past.

Each project is worth from two to six points and pupils set themselves targets of between four and eight points, depending on their ability, for each half term.

The system was introduced in Year 10 geography last year by Alan Hardie, head of humanities, who found that successfully completed homework assignments rose from 50 to 90 per cent as a result. It echoes one of the key themes of the Tomlinson report into 14 to 19 education, which recommended the introduction of extended projects for teenagers.

The Prudhoe system now involves more than 500 pupils studying GCSE and key stage 3 geography, and the 1,050-pupil school has started to implement elements of it in other subjects.

Mr Hardie said the scheme worked because students allowed to choose projects which played to their strengths and interests.

He believes long-term projects encourage lifelong learning and work planning and are a good preparation for further and higher education. "It's trying to develop the skills they will need later on in life - to juggle the things they will need to do," he said.

Susan Hallam, professor of education at London's institute of education said: "It sounds like a good experiment. But the experiences in higher education suggest there might be a problem with students leaving everything to the last minute. Some might not grasp how long it will take. My advice would be to monitor it and see what happens."

Mr Hardie said pupils were set regular deadlines to make sure they were getting on with their projects.

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