I've just done another homework club session in the amusement arcade. Our worthy attempts to raise the status of homework has created a cyber-gaming casino instead.
The senior manager in charge tonight, I survey the rows of 40 Year 7 students. They are volunteers in this homework club. Only three of the 40 are writing anything in their exercise books. The others are pretending to do homework on the computer. Of those 37 pupils, two are genuinely doing some thoughtful writing. The rest are surfing the internet, allegedly doing research. But "research", on closer examination, reveals websites for Nike trainers, Arsenal FC and a new song by Eminem. "Research" is even looser for the vast majority of regular homework clubbers who are playing a variety of computer games. There's a silent pinball machine and Lord of the Rings. On a more serious note, one pupil pursues a challenging Solitaire game of cards.
Let's chart the decline of homework initiative this academic year. We started by insisting that all new Year 7 pupils should come to a homework session for three evenings a week. For the first few weeks, it seemed to work well. Most pupils scratched away busily at written tasks.
But as autumn turned to winter, pupils started bunking off or making excuses, with parents condoning them. In an effort to get back on track, we shortened sessions so that no one had to start their journey home after dark.
But numbers still declined. Fewer seemed to be doing proper homework. There was more talking and silly behaviour, more requests for paper to do sketches to fill up the time. Teachers, parents and pupils alike seemed to have lost heart in the programme.
In the end we made the programme voluntary and took it out of the hall into the more informal surroundings of the library, with its fully integrated ICT suite. Pupil numbers are up again, but homework rates have dropped even further, as, despite our best efforts, we can't turn off the games without closing down all internet access.
HomewOrk remains an elusive issue in this inner-city school. Perhaps we should turn the concept on its head and offer it as a reward to the most motivated pupils, rather than making it an unwanted chore for the majority.
Then we could turn the after-school homework club into a place where pupils could relax at the end of the day with a totally legitimate session of Star Wars.
Sue Potts is a senior manager in an inner-city school. Leader with a gripe? We pay for all 400-word Sounding Offs we publish. Send it to email@example.com