A cool plan for home learning

12th October 2007 at 01:00
It's Thursday. The management team is gathering at 8.20am for their caffeine fix in the conference room before our weekly scheduled meeting. We manage to cover three or four times as much at this time when we're all fresh, as in end-of-school meetings.

Today's discussion is about that controversial topic, homework, or home learning, to use the latest jargon. Please don't laugh this one is too painful. Any Ofsted inspector will tell you that homework comes out as a negative on most consultations with parents. Why? Well, some will say there is not enough set. Some will argue there is far too much. If only we had a Goldilocks response: not too hot and not too cold just right. But this is a topic to raise rather than cool temperatures.

So the big question is: how to set a timetable that parents can follow, teachers can use and students will confess to. Sounds easy? Well think about this. There are more than 30 different classes running each hour just in key stage 3. Each teacher has a different homework, oops, home learning, setting day and another day on which they will collect the work for marking or check it's been done. Then there are the students. They will have yet another day, perhaps the weekend, when they get down to doing the tasks set. How do we record all this in a formal way that makes sense and allows us to be credible in doing what we say we will?

We've tried the "setting as required" approach. It's very sound educationally but a nightmare to check on and leaves so much to the student's good organisation and will power. The forced night fixing (everyone will do maths on Tuesday) is equally insane because the nights never match up to the slots and everyone ends up confused especially the poor teachers.

Today we bat around the two approaches laissez faire or lock-in. We've decided lock-in is the only safe bet, when someone comes up with a brilliant idea an individualised home learning (actually, the jargon is "personalised") timetable for each student. What's more, it will include action plans to reflect other pressures on students during the week clubs and activities. We'll state the night it's set and required but they can choose, within these boundaries, when to do it and so create, with tutors, their personalised home learning timetables. There, I've got all the jargon in that last sentence.

A week later and grids for setting and deadlines are stuck firmly in Planners. Tutors are supporting the students as they write up their timetables. It's surprising how many subjects are planned into Sundays.

So how many senior leaders did it take to change that particular light bulb? Well, about 30, but no one seems to change light bulbs these days must be the new low-energy types. We certainly aren't low on energy here.

Headteacher, South Dartmoor Community College in Ashburton, Devon

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