Should homework be banned?

Homework. If there was ever a topic that will spark debate, this is it. For decades now, homework has become accepted as being part of school life. All students across the globe – of both primary and secondary age – expect to have to do homework. 

It’s just the way it is.

But is that the way it should be? Is homework actually worth it?

The pros and cons of homework

The pros and cons of homework are fairly obvious. On the plus side, homework allows students to extend their learning, building on what they have learned in the classroom at home. Homework can be useful as a way of developing a student’s independent learning and research skills. Similarly, there is a clear argument to suggest that homework acts as excellent preparation for later life – promoting self-discipline and time management – and also helping young people to learn an important lesson: you need to go above and beyond if you are to reach your potential.

On the flip side, many parents express concerns about the sheer amount of homework that is set for their children. It can put a lot of pressure onto young people and can eat into family time and leisure time. Although all parents surely want what is best for children in an academic sense, many also feel that children should just enjoy being children. Too much homework can become a burden – and it can also turn children off learning.

Similarly, not all teachers are totally in favour of homework either. For starters, if they set it they will need to mark it. Homework adds to a teacher’s workload as much as it does a pupil’s.

UK secondary school bans homework

The question that never seems to be asked is: What impact does homework have on a child’s learning and the progress they make?

Instead, schools continue setting homework – often in the same way they have for years – because they are expected do, without really questioning whether it is the right thing to do.

One secondary school in the UK took the unusual and controversial step of banning homework. The decision became national news. Indeed, it caused a good deal of shock and outrage.  

Philip Morant School and College in Colchester, England was the school in question. The Principal, Catherine Hutley, argued that she had taken the decision so that her staff could devote all their energy and time on the business of planning lessons. Although many parents at the school were supportive, the negative publicity and criticism the school and its Principal faced was greater.

How do you make homework more effective?

The vast majority of people would be in agreement with the argument that if students are to achieve their full potential in school then they should expect to put in some hours of study at home as well as in the classroom. However, the counter arguments against homework are compelling too. More young people are experiencing mental health issues these days. Of course, it would be wrong to blame this entirely on homework, but some studies have suggested a link between homework and stress, and the overall well-being of children should never be ignored.

The crucial thing to ensure with homework is that it is effective. Schools should not be setting homework because they think it is the right thing to do. Their focus should be on making sure that the homework teachers set has a genuine value and is effective in progressing students’ learning.

So, what makes homework effective?

Well, there are lots of different factors that can lead to a particular homework task or set of tasks being effective – and a lot will depend on the subject being studied. However, there is one simple way to make sure that any homework piece is effective is if it successfully promotes independent learning.

There is a misconception that any homework is independent study. Although it may well be work that a child completes independently; that, in itself, does not really develop the skill of independent learning.

It is important that tasks set encourage the student to think creatively, to research and to use higher-order skills such as evaluation and analysis. All classroom activities should be designed to stretch and challenge students, but this is especially true of homework.