Why homework can be too much of a bad thing

26th January 1996 at 00:00
If there's a sacred cow for all sacred cows in education it has to be homework. That it must be set and must be done is a universal tenet for schools across the land. To speak out against it feels like heresy but speak out against it I will.

First, homework used to be a set of manageable, timebound exercises to be completed with the help of the appropriate textbook and presented for marking the next day.

Now, hapless teenagers are phased by a plethora of projects across the curriculum, set during the first week of term and due back by Doomsday, the successful and punctual completion of which requires the self-discipline of a Trappist monk and the time-management skills of Stephen Hawking. (And you can't take textbooks home anymore as my 14-year-old son frequently reminds me. )

Second, homework used to begin at age 11 (mostly in the grammar schools where it was thought embryonic professionals ought to learn the practice of taking work home) but now my eight-year-old suffers shades of the prison house long after school has finished because he has to colour in a picture of Henry VIII, design a working model of a drawbridge and write a poem about Diwali... you try it one night!

Before long, rising-fives will be leaving the nursery class, Power Ranger rucksacks heavy with homework and no time left in the day to ride bikes or play hop-scotch because they've got to revise for the Postman Pat test and have Mary Mary Quite Contrary by heart and word perfect.

Homework is not by definition a good thing, however popular it is with parents, governors and education ministers. And setting lots of it doesn't prove you're a good teacher (though it may indicate the opposite). Too much homework can demoralise the conscientious, overstretch the most able to the point of underachievement, and act as a catalyst for lateness and absenteeism.

It's time to fight this slavish addiction. If you can't cut it out, cut it down. Someone should organise a National No Homework Day. I'm sure the sun would still come up next morning.

Jeremy Davies taught for 20 years. He is now a freelance writer.

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