Teachers call for a ban on primary homework

14th March 2008 at 00:00
Conference also wants strict limits on secondary pupils' workload

An overwhelming number of teachers say their pupils get upset or stressed with homework, even though school policy and parental pressure demand it.

Nearly all teachers say they set homework, despite scepticism about its value in the profession and among learning specialists. Most teachers say school policy and parents require them to assign homework, according to a survey of by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

But many children do not complete the homework set for them - 87 per cent of teachers blame that on lack of support at home.

Teachers will argue next week that homework should be scrapped entirely for primary pupils because the pressure makes them miserable. They also propose strict limits on homework at secondary school.

Government guidelines say four and five-year-olds should be set an hour of homework a week, increasing to 2.5 hours a week by Year 6. Guidelines published by the former education secretary David Blunkett 10 years ago say that GCSE pupils should be set up to 2.5 hours' homework every night.

At the ATL annual conference in Torquay next week, teachers will call for a Royal Commission into why so many children are "unhappy and anxious" and dislike school.

Richard Rowe, head of Holy Trinity School at Guildford, Surrey, said he would happily vote to abolish homework but had been unable to persuade parents.

"I genuinely think that if children of primary age are taught well and do a good day's work, there should be no need for homework," he said. "They should be allowed to have a childhood.

"But it's the one issue where we can't come to any consensus or compromise with our parents - most parents want to keep current levels of homework."

Margaret Morrissey, of the National Confederation for Parent Teacher Associations, said: "Schools need to explain to parents that they want their pupils to be fresh and excited in class.

"Younger children go to school quite early and, if their parents work, don't get home till 6pm. To have homework on top of that just risks burnout."

Pupils in England are among the most intensively tested in the world, and their teachers believe the pressure and workload is causing them great stress.

The in-depth Primary Review, led by Professor Robin Alexander, found last year that England's 3.5 million primary children were affected by a "loss of childhood".

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said that much of primary pupils' homework was "a waste of time".

She said children from poorer homes were worst affected because they did not have access to books, computers or assistance from well-educated parents.

"We have to tell parents that their children work extremely hard in school and come home tired," she said. "What they want from parents is some relaxation and fun time. Parents should stop trying to be teachers."

But the Department for Children, Schools and Families defended the importance of homework, saying it helped young people to develop the skills and attitudes needed for successful, independent, lifelong learning.


YES: Simon Harper, a Year 4 teacher at Rushmore School in Hackney, east London.

"Learning should be a shared activity with parents, in the home environment, rather than just something directed by teachers. It prepares them for secondary school. At Mossbourne Academy, here in Hackney, they do colossal amounts of homework and the kids love it."

NO: Kathy Harris, a Year 5 teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes RC Primary in Southport.

"I assign homework because school policy requires it, but I don't think it is appropriate for young children.

"A lot of parents will intervene too much. They will make them do it again because the parent thought they had done it wrong. The children end up in tears."

YES: Andrew Carter, head of South Farnham, a primary in Surrey.

"Nobody wants to overwhelm children with homework, but a reasonable level of studies at home, with their parents, helps children become independent learners, and can be great fun."

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