Booster effect of after-hours effort

17th January 1997 at 00:00
The overall performance of a school can be affected by the amount of homework set for its pupils, according to research commissioned by the Department for Education and Employment.

The report by a team led by Michael Barber, professor of education and dean of new initiatives at London University's Institute of Education, shows that at 70 per cent of schools from a sample of those judged as "excellent" by the Office for Standards in Education, pupils did six hours or more homework a week. This compared with 36 per cent of schools found by OFSTED to be "acceptable" or "good" where pupils did the same amount of homework.

It also found that pupils from OFSTED-cited schools were more likely to take part in extra-curricular activities, such as sports clubs and choir.

The study looked at 14 secondary schools, seven of them OFSTED-cited, and compared the amounts of homework and after-school activities.

The report looks at three areas: curriculum enrichment, for example sports, drama; curriculum extension, for example homework clubs, revision classes; and homework (work set in lessons integral to the curriculum).

The report warns that the size of its sample means that its findings cannot be considered conclusive and its results were compared to the information in Keele University's national database of pupil and parent attitudes to secondary school.

Professor Barber said he found many schools provided a large range of after-school activities, despite the impression that many of these, relying on the goodwill of staff, were thought to have ceased following the teachers' disputes in the 1980s.

The team found that whereas 75 per cent of pupils in OFSTED-cited schools took part in extra-curricular activities, only 58 per cent of pupils in the control group did. The reverse appears to be the case for curriculum extension activities, with the provision greater for most subjects in the control schools.

The evidence shows that a substantial programme of curriculum enrichment and curriculum extension contributes to pupils' enjoyment and ability to succeed academically. But in only two of the 14 schools was there a formal policy on after-school activities .

"There is some evidence that headteachers in the OFSTED-cited (OC) schools give higher priority to staff involvement in extra-curricular provision than their counterparts in the other schools," said the report. Teachers are more likely to be recruited at OC schools if they show a willingness to take part in after-school activities.

The Keele research shows that 44 per cent of secondary pupils spend between two and five hours on homework, 25 per cent spend six to 10 hours and seven per cent more than 10 hours.

In OC schools pupils were doing substantially more homework than their counterparts in the core subjects. For example, half the pupils were doing more than an hour per week English homework compared with fewer than 30 per cent in the control group.

The report recommends that schools should be made aware of the homework policies and practices in the most effective schools. Although the study did not look at primary schools, Professor Barber said he believed primary pupils would also benefit from homework.

School Performance and Extra-Curricular Provision by Michael Barber and Kate Myers, Institute of Education, University of London, and Tim Denning and Michael Johnson, Keele University.

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