How useful is homework?
How much time do we expect students to spend doing homework? It depends on the school but if I take a very rough average of one hour per school night then that would be 5 hours per week. Equivalent to one more day in school per week!
So, if I offered you an additional day’s worth of every student’s time for learning would doing the kind of tasks you normally set, or your colleagues set, be your first choice for that time?
Why do we value homework?
Some ideas that have been given to support the use of home work are
- Independent learning. How much learning goes on? What kind of learning? My guess is quite a lot of it is low level, reinforcement and repetition. How could we possibly leave proper learning to students working alone and with a variety of learning environments in which to carry out this learning? Is homework the best way to support independent learning? If we started from the premise that we wanted independent learning would we come to the conclusion that setting homework tasks would be the best way to achieve this?
- Parental involvement. How many schools teach parents what their role is regarding their child’s homework activities? Need I say more? What about equality? I have a physics degree and I supported my daughter well. She is now a very successful engineer. We would never stop that kind of support and nor should we but homework does lend itself to advantaging the already advantaged. Or do we just mean parental involvement is to see that we do set homework? Schools are expected to set homework and we visibly meet those expectations.
- I’ll add some more later… The dog needs a cuddle.
Schools need to take charge of their own destiny. It is noticeable that schools that gain an Ofsted grade of outstanding are schools that manage the external pressures on themselves to such an extent that they can choose to implement or not implement changes that some other schools feel compelled to adopt. I know my own school was like that. We adopted the changes that we felt would move us on in the direction(s) we had chosen ourselves. We effectively ignored some of the “legislation” because it would have distorted our planned progress.
I want to suggest some questions that schools need to consider. I want some “sacred cows” to be questioned, as deeply as possible, rather than just nodded at. Honest responses rather than justifications such as “We have always done it like that”; “It’s not broke, so don’t fix it” and many other ways that micro politically control schools.
I do think that we should pay good attention to tradition. If it has worked for schools in the past then we ought to factor that into our review of our systems and processes but not to such an extent that we change nothing.
First, let’s ask,
“Can we make better use of the lesson observation processes that go on in schools?”
Most lesson observation is carried out using the Ofsted model. Why? Why do we do these observations? Are we trying to replicate Ofsted three times per year so that we are ready for when they arrive and do the process properly?
No. That can’t be the reason we expend all the effort and resource. Surely the reason is for improvement in student learning? Odd though. The Japanese car industry realised in the 1970s that inspection alone did not improve quality. In fact it did the reverse if there was too much inspection. Targets, checking, measuring did not make the pig weigh more – to paraphrase the old saying. Who now makes most of the world’s cars?
So the question to ask becomes
“What is the best use of our time and resource to support improvement in student learning?”.
I strongly believe that involvement in the actual lessons that are going on, that are the main business of a school is critical in a school’s improvement.
How do we do this so that teachers teach better and students learn better?
Have that discussion and then worry about Ofsted later. If you get the improvement right Ofsted will love you. That would be nice!