Monday 24 October 2016

It is time to rethink what primary school pupils do as homework

In my opinion... Aine Lynch

Published 25/05/2016 | 02:30

Aine Lynch CEO of National Parents' Council Primary
Aine Lynch CEO of National Parents' Council Primary

Parents have a key role in their children's education. This is not only enshrined in Article 42 of our Constitution which recognises "that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family" but it is also evidenced in volumes of research over many decades. But what is their key role? What makes the difference for children?

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There are many different ways that parents can be involved in their children's education, from volunteering in the school to being a member of the school board of management to meeting with the child's teacher about their progress, to name a few. All of these activities are important but what we know from research is that the most important thing parents can do is create a positive home learning environment, one that values and encourages education, that fosters learning and pays attention to children's naturally inquiring minds.

We know that children like to get attention from their parents and the adults in their lives. When children get attention for something they are doing, this encourages them to do more of whatever "it" is. It makes sense then if children get positive attention for learning they will be more engaged and positive about their education.

The sting in the tail for parents however can be that the education culture that we have in Ireland can make it very difficult to make the home a positive learning environment. Often the home learning environment is dominated by homework, which for many children and families can be a stressful and difficult time. Children learn in many different ways and the home is an ideal place for children to learn in a different way from school-based learning.

Why then is the home learning dominated by a school type of learning in the form of homework? The way children learn in school is based on the fact that there are 20-30 children being taught by one adult. Learning tends to necessitate children sitting behind desks for the majority of time and lacks any significant amount of one to one attention. The home is not operating with these constraints.

Home learning should be much more flexible. Opportunities for learning in the home and the community are endless. Why then does home learning, in the form of homework, so often repeat all the learning styles of the classroom?

The National Parents Council Primary (NPC) recently conducted a survey on homework, which asked similar questions of teachers, parents and children regarding their experiences and opinions on homework at primary school. The results will be presented at NPC's "Ready, Steady Learn" conference in Dublin next weekend.

Although the results are not available yet, it is clear that all three stakeholders have strong opinions on frequency, content and type of homework set. Issues of anxiety, boredom and stress are being raised and also the purpose of homework seems to be unclear for many.

While the survey does not purport to be a scientific piece of research it does give us an interesting insight into the views of three key stakeholders in education.

Much attention is given to developing the national curriculum for children's learning in schools, the home curriculum however happens in an ad hoc way in comparison. Professor Charles Desforges, a UK researcher, has found that differences in what parents do with their children at home has a greater impact on outcomes for children's education than any differences in the quality of the schools themselves. Why then are we not more concerned about what is happening in the home?

The primary and natural educator of children is the family, but school and family need to be working together. Parents and teachers need support to make the home environment the best it can possibly be for children. For more information on the Ready, Steady Learn conference, visit or call 01-8874034.

Aine Lynch is CEO of the National Parents' Council Primary

Irish Independent

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