The Homework Debate

‘Do your homework!’

It’s a rallying call around the North Shore every afternoon after 3.30pm.

‘Do your homework now!’

Completing homework is a daily debate between North Shore Mums and their kids.

But it’s not just a debate that rages inside homes; across academia the homework debate has been examined far and wide.

It’s even an election issue with QLD incumbent politician Bob Katter calling for an abolition of homework for anyone under the age of 13. He says he wants to make life ‘fun again for kids.’

Castle Cove Public SchoolBut can homework ever be fun? Or is it just about hard work and routine? That’s something that Castle Cove Public School is setting out to discover by experimenting with its homework policy trialling a variety of different techniques.

Assistant Principal Corinne Campbell says the plan is to firm up a school wide homework policy by the end of the year.

But it’s what’s taking place now that’s grabbed the interest of the local community.

The impetus behind the change is not just from the feedback of parents and students, but a reaction to extensive worldwide research.

According to Corrine Campbell the research is undeniable. ‘There is a huge body of awareness that says whilst daily home reading is essential, homework itself has little to no impact to academic outcomes in primary school.’

This research shows that even through high school, homework only has a minor impact in years 7 to 10. The benefits kick in during years 11 and 12.

Internationally, students in Japan and Finland are assigned less homework than schools in Australia or the US, yet they perform better on tests.

A British high school has recently announced  it will go ‘homework free’ and lengthen the school day. Intense debate in the UK has followed on whether this hinders the ability of teenagers to learn to work independently.

A recent book by Queensland education Professor Mike Horsley, examined the pros and cons of homework and came up with the conclusion homework in Australian schools was unnecessary. He said  it had no benefit for primary school kids.

It’s an emotional issue.

Last year French President François Hollande vowed to ban homework. Jealous North Shore students should note that French kids already only do four days school a week and get two hours for lunch! He inflamed nation-wide outrage and international condemnation.

Back on the North Shore, it’s a Castle Cove Public School initiative with homework being made optional in years K through 1. However, home reading remains mandatory.

The biggest change to homework has been in the Year Two classes where the idea of homework has been completely revamped. This is where the core of the experiment is taking place.

Adolescent psychologist Michael Carr Gregg has long been a critic of homework saying it eats into family time. Other experts have said it adds to childhood obesity and sleeping problems.

Castle Cove Assistant Principal Corrine Campbell agrees. ‘Our research showed it was taking up a huge amount of class time and becoming a huge stress to families.’

HomeworkThey gave children (and parents) choice. They set homework monthly rather than weekly and let the students pick which tasks they wanted to complete, if any at all.

‘The kids loved it,’ she says.

The parents however had a mixed response. ‘70% of families were really positive, the parents said the kids were begging to do homework’ said the Assistant Principal.

Vanessa, a year 4 student at Castle Cove says  the new homework style is awesome.

‘It really is great fun, and you only have to do what you want’.

Some Castle Cove families however struggled with the change.

Corrine Campbell says it was a challenge for those time poor families, as the new model of homework required greater help.

‘We hadn’t considered how much easier it is for busy parents to just give the kids a worksheet’.

‘Homework is very traditional but families don’t work on those models anymore’, says Corrine Campbell.

For the Turner family of Artarmon it seems to create more friction than fun. Mother of three, Adelaide says that every afternoon is a constant battle. ‘Between helping my kindergarten son and my 1st and 3rd grader my whole afternoon seems to be consumed with homework.’

But for many, homework is beneficial not just for revision but also for creating routine for their kids.

Amanda a mother of twin boys finds homework helps the transition from the school day to the evening routine. ‘I would be very opposed to my children’s school dropping homework.’ She says that her kids know when they come home its snack, homework, then TV, and nothing changes that routine.

But while homework continues to exist on the North Shore, the experts top top tips for getting it done without (too much) complaining are:

  • Get into a routine – everyone has afterschool activities, part of learning life skills is learning to work around these.
  • Choose the right time – when they are not too tired, and at the same time every afternoon.
  • Make Space – choose a quiet area in which the kids can focus.
  • Be interested and positive – parents need to find the time to listen and find the time to ask questions about what their kids are learning.

What are your thoughts on homework? Is it really necessary, or from what age? How does homework fit into your family life?

Shauna Anderson lives in Cammeray with three kids and two dogs. Her boys aged 4 and 6 go to the local school and pre -school while her daughter, 2, rules the roost. Before entering the world of parenthood Shauna worked as a TV journalist, most recently as Chief of Staff at the Nine Network's Today. She has over 18 years experience as a reporter, producer and writer.

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