A TIMSS (Trends in Math and Science Study) survey, conducted in 2007, revealed that fourth grader students in countries that set below average levels of homework were more academically successful in math and science than those in countries that set above average levels. In Japan – ranked second in the results table – only three percent of students reported a particularly heavy workload of over three hours a night while a staggering 20 percent of Dutch students – whose scores were in the international top 10 – claimed to do no homework whatsoever. This is in stark contrast to countries like Greece and Thailand, where higher workloads have done nothing to rectify lower scores.
These results are not alone in debunking the myth that homework in any way benefits the academic performance of elementary students. So why, we should ask, are policymakers and educators so hell-bent on enforcing it? In his 2006 publication The Homework Myth, prolific author and outspoken critic of the current educational system Alfie Kohn set out a well argued and evidentially attested thesis saying that the purpose of homework is twofold. Firstly it’s meant to instill an air of competitiveness in children, not only within the physical classroom, but, because of the quantitatively driven approach of policy experts, within the global classroom – against China, Singapore and Finland, for example. Secondly, homework is used as a weapon to combat adults’ inherent mistrust of children, keeping them busy so they don’t run riot. This latter suggestion may baffle belief, but a concerned parent’s response to the suggestion that homework be banned (‘we have to have homework… otherwise the kids won’t have structure and they will just come home and fool around’) attests to its current orthodoxy.
The thing about homework is that is doesn’t work. As shown by numerous studies, it brings no educational benefits, acts as a root cause of conflict between children, parents and teachers and has detrimental mental and physical effects on children that, by the fact that they’re avoidable, are absolutely inexcusable. Children are not the only ones to fear the evils of homework though. Teachers, under increasing amounts of pressure to meet targets, cover curricula and achieve grades, are incentivized to set more and more of it and grade more and more of it; something that wouldn’t be so bad if we weren’t so aware of its utter pointlessness.
The most important problem, however, is that homework is more closely associated with punishment than with pleasure. Made to be completed during time that should be spent engaging in creative, playful and recreational pursuits, homework doesn’t even have the courtesy to be enjoyable by nature – as is completely apparent from my students’ faces when I fulfill my duties to the school in setting it for them. And such truth is not surprising when you consider that for homework to be enjoyable, it would have to be everything it’s not: optional instead of mandatory, creative rather than prescribed and objectively appreciated instead of subjectively assessed. Improvement to our children’s education, until we redefine what our definition of education really is, can only be achieved through one thing, its removal.
"The issue of homework can damage parents and children's relationships when trying to get it all done, and ends in tears all round."
The Government says homework is not compulsory but it is encouraged.
Guidelines for schools in England say five-year-olds should do one hour a week, rising to 90 to 150 minutes a day at 16.
They say 10 and 11-year-olds should be doing half an hour of homework every day.
However, research has cast doubt on its effectiveness, and has even suggested that too much is counter-productive.
The ATL heard how many schools failed to provide "proper feedback" after children completed homework because staff were over-worked.
In some cases, teaching assistants are asked to mark work, it was claimed.
At one school, pupils aged 10 and 11 were given six hours of homework over the Easter break in preparation for Sats in English, maths and science.
Pupils should be given the time to “play games with their friends and go out on trips with their families” instead of being forced to work, teachers said.
The ATL, which represents more than 160,000 teachers and support staff, also criticised the Government’s new “nappy curriculum” which they said would fuel bad behaviour among young children.
Under plans, all children under five are required to meet 69 targets covering areas such as numeracy and problem-solving.
But academics have already condemned the requirements which they said would push children into academic education before they are ready - harming their long-term development.
Teachers said the so-called Early Years Foundation Stage was leading to an increase in children throwing “tantrums”.
Angela Forkin, a school advisor and former nursery teacher from Wigan, said: “They are kicking out, they are fighting, they are refusing, sometimes having tantrums, hiding on the table.
“It’s simply because they can’t cope, they haven’t got the maturity to cope and they haven’t got the ability to express it. This carries on through the education system. They are switched off at four and they never become switched on again.”