Ed Balls, permission to breathe, please

31st October 2008 at 00:00

I was helping my Year 10s gather ideas for submission to the school council. This mostly entailed convincing them that 20 simultaneous voices are not an ordered discussion. They were so animated because they'd heard about a school that had drastically reduced homework, freeing evenings for students and teachers.

"Miss," they chorused: "Wouldn't you rather watch TV than mark our essays?"

If only they understood that the real issue is not, would I like to watch TV, but would I know how to plan an entire evening unassisted? All teachers know, enlightened as we have been by the Government, that we have difficulty planning lessons without help from On High. I'm grateful; it was a hard life, having to think of things to do in class. Most lessons last at least thirty minutes and, degree and PGCE notwithstanding, that is expecting too much from a teacher. So, the Government supplies all kinds of helpful material, advising us to split our lessons into beginnings, middles and ends, for instance. I couldn't be more grateful.

How would we cope with free evenings, then? The average evening is four hours. Take an hour off for the complicated task of sorting dinner. After washing up (Assessment Objective 3.4.2: Load dishwasher effectively, demonstrating skills in arranging crockery, putting cutlery in downwards and not-starting-the-rinsing-fight), there would still be several unstructured hours left.

Husband: Darling, what shall we do tonight?

Teacher-wife: Crikey, so many options. Surely there's a National Strategy for this kind of thing.

Husband: We could talk.

Teacher-wife: You mean ... communicate? Without advice on how to encourage each other to contribute in a meaningful and collaborative way?


Husband: I'll pop down the pub, then.

It's not just teachers. What about Mum and Dad? Parents who had their evenings nicely structured into The Soaps, The Bill, The News and The Cocoa, while their offspring were busy with a combination of Facebook and Frenchbook, would have some thinking to do. What would happen if the kids were home from football and it was only 8pm?

"Surely you can't have finished your homework already!" wouldn't cut the mustard when homework could be done while Grand Theft Auto was loading up.

I advised my Year 10s that the homework ban idea was destined for failure, so they should ditch it. I sold this as "for your own good" but really I did it for Ed Balls. I didn't want him to have to draft new guidelines for poor teachers floundering on free evenings.

On the other hand, maybe he wouldn't known much about free evenings, spending so much time as he does writing to us about how to teach.

Fran Hill, English teacher at an independent girls schools in Warwickshire.

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