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Good Arguments Against Homework

Guide: Is homework a good idea or not?

The Christmas holidays are over and it's back to school!

That means lessons, assembly, seeing your friends and - for a lot of you - time to do homework again!

While giving homework to pupils in secondary schools is generally seen as a good idea, some don't think that kids in primary schools should have to do it.

For the last 100 years or so, experts have been trying to work out if it is beneficial to give homework to kids in primary schools.

In the UK, the government says it's up to the head teacher to decide whether or not their school will set extra work like this.

Find out more about both sides of the argument with Newsround's guide, and then let us know what you think of doing homework when you're in primary school.

What is homework?

Homework: A timeline

  • 1997: Just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework
  • 1998: Government publishes advice for schools in England and Wales about setting homework (e.g. pupils aged 5 to 7 should do 10 minutes of homework a night)
  • 1999: Around 9 in 10 primary schools are setting homework
  • 2012: Government gets rid of its guidelines, saying that schools should get to decide for themselves

Homework generally means work that is set by teachers for you to do outside of your normal school hours.

When you're younger, your parents might help you to do it.

But as you get older, you will generally take more responsibility for doing your homework on your own.

Professor Sue Hallam from the Institute of Education - who is one of the most experienced researchers into homework in the UK - says that in 1997, just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework.

Just two years later, this had risen to around nine in ten primary schools and the majority still set homework now.

Why do people think homework is a good idea?

Many think that giving homework to primary school children is an important part of their learning.

They believe it helps them to practice what that they have learnt in lessons, in order to get better at things like spelling and handwriting.

They say it helps to teach children how to work on their own and be disciplined with themselves - both skills that are useful later in life.

It can also allow parents or guardians to get involved in their children's learning.

To find out more about why people think homework is a good idea, Jenny spoke to Chris from the campaign for Real Education, which is a group of teachers and parents who care about how well schools are doing.

Members of the organisation believe that traditional homework is important.

Chris told Newsround: "If you like learning, homework helps to support your learning. It's really important to go back afterwards and think about what you're learning in class. Practice makes perfect."

"In parts of the world, children are doing much better in school than children in the UK. In most cases, they are doing much more homework.

"That doesn't mean you should be doing home work all the time.

"But a little bit of homework to support what you're doing in the classroom, involving your parents and guardians, is really good because it allows you to do as well as everybody else in the world."

Chris added that it is important to have a balance between homework and other activities.

"Homework shouldn't be overdone. Let's do some homework and some play."

Why do people think homework is a bad idea?

Some people think that giving homework to children at primary school is not necessary.

They think it puts too much pressure on them and that the time spent doing homework could be used to do other activities.

Jenny also spoke to Nansi Ellis - assistant general secretary of one of the biggest teacher's unions in England, made up of teachers and heads - who doesn't believe that giving homework to primary school children is needed.

She told Newsround: "There is other good stuff you can do at home, like reading, playing sport or a musical instrument, or helping with the cooking, shopping or with your siblings. You might be a Guide or a Scout.

"Those things are really helpful for you to learn to work in a team, to learn to be creative, to ask questions and to help other people. These are really important skills.

"The trouble with homework is that it gets in the way of all of those good things that you could be doing and it doesn't necessarily help you with your school work."

Sometimes parents or guardians try to help with homework and, if they have been taught differently, it can end up being confusing for the child doing the homework. They can also end up doing too much of the work themselves!

Nansi added: "Some children live in really busy houses with lots of people coming and going, and they don't have a quiet space to do homework, so they can't use it to help them to get better at studying on their own, which doesn't seem fair.

"Teachers set homework for you to get better at your learning - that seems like a really good reason. But actually, the evidence isn't clear that even that's true."

Another expert Rosamund McNeil, from a teachers' organisation called the NUT, said: "Pupils in Finland are assigned very little homework yet they remain one of the most educationally successful countries in the world."

Why is this issue being talked about?

People have been trying to find out if homework is a good thing or a bad thing for many years.

Recently, a report was done by an organisation called the Teaching Schools Council, which works with the government and schools in England.

It says: "Homework [in primary schools] should have a clear purpose."

The report explains that if there isn't a clear reason for the homework and the pupils won't necessarily gain something from doing it, then it should not be set.

Dame Reena Keeble, an ex-primary school head teacher who led the report, told Newsround: "What we are saying in our report is that if schools are setting homework for you, they need to explain to you - and your mums and dads - why they're setting it, and your teachers need to let you know how you've done in your homework.

"We found homework can really help with your learning, as long as your school makes sure that what you're doing for your homework is making a difference."

So is homework a good idea or a bad idea?

Many people have different opinions. However, the truth is it's hard to know.

Professor Hallam explains that part of the problem is that it is difficult to accurately work out how useful homework is.

Generally, people agree that homework is good idea for children in secondary school.

But for primary school, it isn't clear if there's a right or wrong answer to this question.

And you've been having your say too.

Nearly 900 of you took part in an online vote about the amount of homework you get: whether it is not enough, just right or too much.

It's just a quick snapshot of what some of you think. Here's the results:

As kids return to school, debate is heating up once again over how they should spend their time after they leave the classroom for the day.

The no-homework policy of a second-grade teacher in Texas went viral last week, earning praise from parents across the country who lament the heavy workload often assigned to young students. Brandy Young told parents she would not formally assign any homework this year, asking students instead to eat dinner with their families, play outside and go to bed early.

But the question of how much work children should be doing outside of school remains controversial, and plenty of parents take issue with no-homework policies, worried their kids are losing a potential academic advantage. Here’s what you need to know:

The issue

For decades, the homework standard has been a “10-minute rule,” which recommends a daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level. Second graders, for example, should do about 20 minutes of homework each night. High school seniors should complete about two hours of homework each night. The National PTA and the National Education Association both support that guideline.

But some schools have begun to give their youngest students a break. A Massachusetts elementary school has announced a no-homework pilot program for the coming school year, lengthening the school day by two hours to provide more in-class instruction. “We really want kids to go home at 4 o’clock, tired. We want their brain to be tired,” Kelly Elementary School Principal Jackie Glasheen said in an interview with a local TV station. “We want them to enjoy their families. We want them to go to soccer practice or football practice, and we want them to go to bed. And that’s it.”

A New York City public elementary school implemented a similar policy last year, eliminating traditional homework assignments in favor of family time. The change was quickly met with outrage from some parents, though it earned support from other education leaders.

New solutions and approaches to homework differ by community, and these local debates are complicated by the fact that even education experts disagree about what’s best for kids.

The research

The most comprehensive research on homework to date comes from a 2006 meta-analysis by Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper, who found evidence of a positive correlation between homework and student achievement, meaning students who did homework performed better in school. The correlation was stronger for older students—in seventh through 12th grade—than for those in younger grades, for whom there was a weak relationship between homework and performance.

Cooper’s analysis focused on how homework impacts academic achievement—test scores, for example. His report noted that homework is also thought to improve study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness and independent problem solving skills. On the other hand, some studies he examined showed that homework can cause physical and emotional fatigue, fuel negative attitudes about learning and limit leisure time for children. At the end of his analysis, Cooper recommended further study of such potential effects of homework.

Despite the weak correlation between homework and performance for young children, Cooper argues that a small amount of homework is useful for all students. Second-graders should not be doing two hours of homework each night, he said, but they also shouldn’t be doing no homework.

The debate

Not all education experts agree entirely with Cooper’s assessment.

Cathy Vatterott, an education professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, supports the “10-minute rule” as a maximum, but she thinks there is not sufficient proof that homework is helpful for students in elementary school.

“Correlation is not causation,” she said. “Does homework cause achievement, or do high achievers do more homework?”

Vatterott, the author of Rethinking Homework: Best Practices That Support Diverse Needs, thinks there should be more emphasis on improving the quality of homework tasks, and she supports efforts to eliminate homework for younger kids.

“I have no concerns about students not starting homework until fourth grade or fifth grade,” she said, noting that while the debate over homework will undoubtedly continue, she has noticed a trend toward limiting, if not eliminating, homework in elementary school.

The issue has been debated for decades. A TIME cover in 1999 read: “Too much homework! How it’s hurting our kids, and what parents should do about it.” The accompanying story noted that the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to a push for better math and science education in the U.S. The ensuing pressure to be competitive on a global scale, plus the increasingly demanding college admissions process, fueled the practice of assigning homework.

“The complaints are cyclical, and we’re in the part of the cycle now where the concern is for too much,” Cooper said. “You can go back to the 1970s, when you’ll find there were concerns that there was too little, when we were concerned about our global competitiveness.”

Cooper acknowledged that some students really are bringing home too much homework, and their parents are right to be concerned.

“A good way to think about homework is the way you think about medications or dietary supplements,” he said. “If you take too little, they’ll have no effect. If you take too much, they can kill you. If you take the right amount, you’ll get better.”

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