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“I Hate Homework – Always Have And Always Will”

The homework snare tightens its grip the more you struggle – and The Primary Head is desperate to escape…

The Primary Head
by The Primary Head
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I don’t feel a lot of guilt about my leadership. I feel my expectations are fair, and I strive to make teachers’ workload genuinely balanced.

So if you work in my school and moan about some element of the job, although I will listen and support, I may not have a great deal of sympathy. Except in one area. There is one element of school life that does cause me to feel guilt. Something that, in the pit of my stomach, I feel I am avoiding confronting head on. What is this blot on the educational landscape? Is it performance management? No, I feel pretty happy with those arrangements. Is it the marking policy? No, and anyway, I don’t have one. Then it must be something around behaviour? Nope. Well, what is it? Homework.

Public expectations

I hate homework – always have and always will. As a teacher, I never saw the benefits of giving it out, collecting it back in and marking weekly. As a head, I᾿ve tried to manage this burden for my staff, but I still don’t think I᾿ve tamed the beast. The real problem with homework is the public expectation. When you’re at a party (though the days when I was invited to parties are now long gone) and you say you’re a teacher, suddenly everyone becomes very animated as they begin to tell you about what education should be like. We᾿ve all experienced school, and therefore all feel qualified to comment on the rights and wrongs of the current education climate.

As a polite party guest, you have to sit there and provide non-committal responses to their (often mad) ideas and beliefs which range from:

• ‘Children nowadays can’t read or write properly. Schools should focus on that – in silence.’ • ‘Today’s children are missing out on their childhoods. Primary school should just be fun.’ • ‘Our teacher threw board rubbers at us and it never did us any harm. Bring back corporal punishment!’

All of this applies to homework, only worse. Parents can say what they like about school policy, but chances are they can’t change it. Homework, on the other hand, is something they feel able to influence and their stance is, most of the time, based on their personal experiences of the practice.

Some parents love it, some hate it. Some don’t remind their children to complete it on time, some do. Some don᾿t mind if they never see the homework marked, some demand to see the marking so they can check it. (There are even those who complete it for their children and check with the teacher afterwards to see if they got top marks!)

The teacher, therefore, is at the mercy of each parent’s particular view of homework and how it should be operating.

Beset by myriad issues

Surely the answer is in a strong homework policy? Yes, but even so, homework is set up to be a bone of contention for many parents and teachers. It often pits home against school. There are the battles to get homework in, and the question of what to do with the child who never does – do you punish the child or the parent?

What about the child whose family is living on the edge and completing homework is the last thing on their mind? What do you do then? How do you satisfy the parents who, no matter how much homework you set, always want more? How does the teacher support the parents who do not understand the homework’s concept, week after week? Homework should be so simple, but in reality it is beset by myriad issues. This is the reason for my guilt. I don’t like setting traps for my teachers. I don’t like putting in place something that’s going to derail them from their proper job or make their life harder. Homework has the capacity to do all of that, every week. So what’s the answer? I think I will need to get tough on homework. Maybe I’ll abolish it. Maybe I’ll limit it to reading at home and times tables. Maybe homework will be made voluntary, with parents able to set it and mark it as they see fit.

Whatever I do, I’m going to make sure that when I finally kill this beast of burden, I do so with a clean conscience.

The Primary Head is the moniker of a headteacher currently working in a UK primary school; he tweets as @theprimaryhead

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