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Why primary teachers should think twice about setting homework

Leading educationist gives tips for engaging disadvantaged pupils, including making the most of 'teachable moments'

teachers warned not to set too much homework

Leading educationist gives tips for engaging disadvantaged pupils, including making the most of 'teachable moments'

Primary teachers have been warned against setting too much homework, as it can create inequalities in the classroom.

The warning comes from Louis Volante, professor of education at Brock University in Canada, who says not all students will have the same resources at home.

He said: “I know, for example, that when my two kids ask me a question, they will probably get more help from me than from other parents.”

Professor Volante was speaking at a conference of primary and early years teachers about how to engage disadvantaged children.

He said having flexible and adaptable lessons as well as making the most of “teachable moments” (unplanned opportunities that arise in a classroom when a child's interest is often at its highest) were other ways in which teachers could engage disadvantaged pupils.

He also highlighted the benefits of having high- and low-achieving pupils working side-by-side in the same classroom.

He said: “Some parents might not want their kids in the same class as a lower-functioning student, but the best way to actually learn something is to teach it, so having a strong student with a weaker student benefits both of them. It really does.

“I’ve never had an issue with my son or my daughter sitting with a weaker student in their class because I know that if my son has to explain, say a mathematical concept, they are actually gonna learn it better.”

Countries where there is more choice of school-type within the education system (eg, between independent and state schools)    tend to have lower outcomes for disadvantaged pupils and lower outcomes overall, said Professor Volante. While countries with systems which delay streaming pupils until later in their school lives tend to have better outcomes for disadvantaged pupils because “surprise, surprise: they often get placed into lower academic tracts,” he said.

He also highlighted the fact that disadvantaged children were more likely to be bullied, which can affect their educational attainment and said there was a need for “physical safety supports” in schools and communities. Respecting children’s individual preferences and giving differentiated instructions were among his other measures for engaging disadvantaged pupils.

Professor Volante is currently conducting a five-year research programme examining different characteristics affecting pupil outcomes, along with colleagues in New Zealand and Holland. He was speaking at the New Visions for Primary and Early Years Education conference at the British Library.

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