Housework, not homework

24th June 2005 at 01:00
The law says it is the duty of the parent of every child of school age to provide efficient education for himher suitable to hisher age, ability and aptitude. Note that it is the parent that is responsible for providing the education.

They may do this by teaching the child themselves or by delegating the task to a school, for example. Although it is still the norm for the latter course to be taken, increasingly the former, the home schooling route, is being chosen. Why?

I wonder if it has anything to do with the dilemma I face as a parent concerned that my children (aged two, four, seven and nine) receive an efficient, well-rounded education?

On the one hand, I pay teachers through my taxes to teach a certain defined curriculum to my children at the local school; on the other, there are things I want my children to learn which are not part of that curriculum.

At home, I want to train my children how to perform key household tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, gardening and simple repairs, and to encourage them to become fully involved in the communal life of the family. I want them to be taught to play musical instruments and to have the time to play them.

I want them to become fluent in the other language of our bilingual family and to learn how to read and write it. I want them to be free to enjoy their own books (without the threat of being tested on the content afterwards) and to have time to play and have hobbies. This is our "home curriculum".

The problem is that the school encroaches on our home curriculum period by setting compulsory homework. This creates conflict. I am not at liberty to remove my children from the school during the school day, so surely it is only fair that the school does not interfere with our home life by forcing the children to do schoolwork outwith school hours.

To rub salt into the wound, despite the fact that I pay through my taxes for professional teachers to teach the school's curriculum, I am expected to assist my children with this schoolwork. As a qualified teacher, am I within my rights to charge my local department of education a fee for the time I spend doing this?

I do not know how much say the Scottish Schools (Parental Involvement) Bill will really give to parents if and when it becomes an Act, but I hope it will give them the opportunity to challenge homework policy.

As a parent (and former educational researcher), I propose that all necessary preparatory work be restricted to school hours only. This would also ensure that professional help is on hand for pupils who encounter difficulties with the work, rather than leaving parents to cope with frustrated and worried children.

I would not rule out homework being made available to pupils and parents who desire it, but strictly on a genuinely voluntary basis. I strongly believe that the setting of regular homework, rather than ensuring that schoolwork is completed during the school day, ultimately encourages the unhealthy taking-work-home-from-the-office ethic and all the detrimental consequences this has for mental well-being, family life and our society.

Dr Stephen Clackson (PGCE)

West Manse, Sanday, Orkney

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