All this work doesn't get my seal of approval

7th January 2005 at 00:00
You can please some of the parents some of the time, but if you want to please most of them most of the time, give out homework, shedloads of it.

The age of the child doesn't matter. A homework timetable, lots of photocopied sheets to fill in, and a reading journal will have those parents behaving like so many circus seals, standing on their back flippers at the sight of you and clapping wildly. Throw in a termly CAT score and they will slither across the ring and lick your masterful boots.

All of which leaves a small group of us over there, on the far side of the ring, refusing to clap, and muttering darkly about leaving the circus. You can flick us with your whip, your four or five pieces a week for Year 4, handed out on Friday to be handed back on Friday. You can throw us a sprat, your new rule that a nine-year-old who fails to bring in her reading diary will be kept in at playtime. But we will not clap.

We will not clap because, as any right-thinking seal knows, pups need time to mooch, to hang about their rock, leaning on mum and staring at the waves. Being prodded and poked and schooled all the time makes them grow up snarling and probably hinders proper whisker development.

Behind these fishy thoughts is the fact that my Year 4, who is nine, came home a few weeks ago with 108 sums to do. That's right, twelve times nine, 108 three-column multiplication sums. You have to ask yourself what will happen in the years to come if already there aren't enough hours in the school day to teach a nine-year-old all she needs to know.

I'm not one of those parents who does homework for their children. I occasionally cast an eye over it, largely because I'm a smartypants who likes spotting mistakes in the photocopied sheets. This time I looked at it after my daughter had done 30 questions, nearly all wrong. She hadn't understood the lesson, which seemed to make the homework pointless.

But the next week it was swiftly on to creative writing by numbers. Think of some adjectives you might use to describe a dark and frightening house.

Next question: using your adjectives, write a description of the room where the murder happens. Never: write a story called The Dark Room. Never: write a complete story. That would be really frightening.

And yes, it was my nine-year-old who was kept in because she couldn't find her reading diary, a diary in which the teacher asked her to use more adjectives about the stories she had read.

She probably couldn't find it because it was buried somewhere in the heap of books by her bed; she probably didn't write huge amounts because she was too busy reading.

But in the playground the chatter goes: "He's such a good teacher. Plenty of homework. Very sorted." Clap, clap, go the seals balanced on their drums.

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