blogpost letter to S.Exress on Homework

Jeremy Wright’s plea for less homework could hopefully lead to some relief for teacher’s.

Shortly after Blair became P.M., the talk in Education was of research, which showed that compulsory homework provided little, if any, benefit to pupils.
School’s were moving towards creating a system whereby only those requesting extra homework needed it to be set.

However, another situation arose, whereby concern was being raised over latchkey kids creating problems for a shrinking police force and the story, printed in the media, was that Tony Blair’s mother-in-Law had asserted, over a dinner table, that these children wouldn’t be roaming the streets, causing trouble, if they had homework to do

The Education Department did a quick about face and implemented homework guidelines to be implemented by all school’s, for all age group’s.

Setting of irrelevant homework’s is easy but pointless and on occasion, e.g. when starting a new topic, the only option is to set homework’s along the lines of completion of classwork.

Two problems arose with this approach:
Although the diligent would be rewarded by their high effort in class time, this would be a source of anger for ambitious parents.
Those pupils, who were reluctant, or who were unable to complete work in class, would meet similar concern with doing the work at home.
The consequences were, then, twofold:
Parental complaints of both too little and of too much homework, came pouring in.
The solution was to set up a bank of homeworks.
Here again varying ability levels, as well as temperament rendered this problematic.
Hard, intermediate and trivial versions of the same homework topic were created.
Again, this created complaints.
Able pupils were aggrieved that their free time was being cut into, to a greater extent, than if they were set the trivial homeworks. Whilst they could accept the logic of the differentiation, it did cause disaffection, especially in the adolescents.
Parents would be upset that their children were being set the easier homeworks. (parents talk and compare the status level reflected in their offspring’s academic standing).
Furthermore, Senior staff were under pressure to provide data comparing pupils level of ability and this wasn’t possible with such disparate levels of homework targets.
One size fits all was demanded by data collecting for league table analyses, which forced teacher’s to attempt to force all pupils to operate at the same level of homework tasks
It is politically incorrect to speak of pupil IQ’s, which, before Blunkett closed and sold off all the special school’s, ranged from 80 to 120 for the majority of mainstream pupils.  In common parlance road-sweeper to undergraduate.
Before Blair announced a target of 85% of pupils achieving the equivalent of 5 GCE grade C’s, 20% of pupils were classed as ESN  (Educationally subnormal). these were now placed in mainstream classes on the pretext that no-one would notice, even with Classroom assistant’s sitting right next to them like a huge billboard sign.
To avoid complaints from ambitious parents, the homeworks would have to be aimed at a minimum of average ability level. However: bearing this in mind, it becomes obvious that some pupils would be unable to start the homework, let alone complete it, especially those requiring a Classroom Assistant.
Such disheartened pupils are hard to enthuse and we must also bear in mind that some of the average ability pupils were/are
socially aberrant to the extent that they are known to the Police and are easily identifiable, by staff, as future rivals to the Kray twins.
This creates a problem of how to be even handed in a one size fits all school environment.
Motivating pupils with gold stars, smiley faces etc. doesn’t work if they are handed out too liberally and they certainly don’t work with pupils who don’t produce any meaningful effort at a homework.
Furthermore, if motivation is all carrot and no stick, the proportion of homework fails will rise, even for the most charismatic and respected teachers. (teacher’s meet 200 pupils a week, in secondary school, not all will be captivated)
If pupils weren’t punished for failure to complete homework then it wouldn’t be done and, again, ambitious parents would be complaining,
Traditionally, School discipline is maintained via setting lines, or by detention.
First line punishment would be more written work(?), usually the setting of lines to copy or copying out the school code or some equally, intellectually undemanding task.
Failure to do this (by pupils who had, after all, failed to do homework and who would, by now, have further homework), required that they be moved to the next level.

A short interjection here, in that this was/is not a problem for all subjects e.g.P.E., Pottery, Drama and fun, non-academic subjects.
It’s not a problem in public school’s, faith schools, grammar schools, or the new foundation schools, which always have the “shape up, or ship out” option.
Hence the worry about mainstream schools becoming “sink school’s”, especially in area’s where the catchment is average ability, at best. (mediocre, in Blair speak)

Returning to mainstream school’s we move to second line punishment, i.e. school detention.
Pupil’s, failing to do homework, quickly found the flaw here and the numbers to be catered for, rose rapidly.
Senior Staff found the demand on their time had risen rapidly, especially as pupils with 10 hours of homework a week to fail at, could only achieve two detentions per week.  Some could achiev a week’s quota by second lesson on Monday, leaving themselves invulnerable to further teacher torment
Senior staff were quickly overwhelmed and the problem was transferred back to the staff “creating the problem”. I.e. those teaching the more rigorous subjects of Science, Maths, modern languages and English, along with History and Geography.
So, these staff were required to put in two to three extra hours detention after school as punishment for having such pupils and for teaching such non-fun subjects.
Pupils would have to be waylaid leaving lessons in other parts of the school, when possible, as they quite happily “forgot” that they had a detention. Sometimes, they could claim a prior detention with another teacher. This puts individual staff in the role of Wiley Coyote, rather than The Pied Piper.
One particularly taxing aspect is what to do if there is only one miscreant.
What teacher would be foolish enough to keep a pupil alone in the classroom with him/her?
Homework creates unnecessary discipline problems, with various half-baked idea’s, promulgated from on high, to give a pretense of solving the issue.
Previous to the crackdown on pupil absenteeism, disaffected final year pupils were tacitly encouraged to truant but reduced policing and rising pilfering by truants in town centres, meant this had to stop. (except for the occasional Ofsted)
Schemes such as Mentoring, agreeing contracts, two day suspensions, contrived end of term trips for whole year groups, proms have been tried but all it really needs is an acknowledgement that for many non-academic pupils, school is a cheap form of baby-sitting cum incarceration cum reduction of unemployment figures.
Homework is just a cruel and unnecessary abuse of the unenfranchised.

Remove the requirement that homework be done by all pupils.
For those that want it, continue setting it (and post it on-line)
That way pupils who wish to do homework can be set it at a worthwhile level and parent’s who wish to push their children can see what has been set.
A further advantage would be that teacher’s could put meaningful comments on pupil’s work, knowing that it will make a difference to the pupil, rather than simply satisfy the tickbox culture of teacher assessment.
Pupil’s will feel less antagonistic towards school and the teacher’s of less fun subjects.
Teacher’s will feel that they are achieving something, without harming their career progress.
The only people who might lose out are those who “know” that they can enthuse a class of 15 year-old, low achiever’s, last period on Friday, in the Summer, with the joys of solving simultaneous equations and with plenty more for homework to do over the weekend.


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