Sunday 28 May 2017

Parents - don't go mad if the dog has eaten the homework

Tens of thousands of schoolchildren have reason to cheer. Irish primary principals have finally admitted that homework is a waste of time.

All those hours spent toiling on sums and Irish vocabulary, with accompanying high-pitched grumbles to parents, are futile, if we are to believe the Irish Primary Principals' Network (IPPN).

The IPPN told last Thursday's Oireachtas Committee on Education: "There is little evidence to suggest that homework as we currently know it has any real benefit.''

If the principals follow their own teachings on the homework question, the days when young children, and parents, sweat over copy books at the kitchen table late into the evening may be numbered.

Pat Goff, president of the IPPN and principal of Scoil Mhuire National School in Wexford, said: "Homework causes a lot of stress between parents and children. It often erodes the short length 'quality-time' that parents have with their children.''

"I often think it is the most inexperienced teachers who give the most homework,'' says the IPPN president.

"Some of the pressure to do more homework is actually coming from parents themselves.

"Some parents believe that a teacher who gives a lot of homework must be a good teacher, but there is no evidence for that at all.''

Research on the topic in America seems to indicate that giving homework to primary school pupils makes little or no difference to academic performance.

Young children find it harder to ignore distractions and tire too easily to focus on study after school, according to researchers at Duke University in North Carolina.

Their review of 16 years of academic research concluded that there is little link between how well primary pupils do in national tests and the amount of homework they are set.

The researchers claimed that as well as finding it hard to concentrate, younger children were unlikely to study effectively.

However, the report concluded that homework benefits students at second level.

Pat Goff of the IPPN: "Young children in particular would be better off spending a few minutes each evening reading for fun.''

Some parents may grumble that teachers would be only too happy to ditch homework, because it would mean less work setting and correcting it.

But curiously, the INTO, the body representing primary teachers, is more supportive of homework than the body representing principals.

INTO spokesman Peter Mullan says: "Homework is the most regular and one of the most important links between home and school.

"It allows a parent/guardian to become involved in children's school work and see on a regular basis how they are doing. It allows teachers to extend learning beyond the four walls of the classroom.''

Schools are now having to change their strict policies on homework, because of the changing lifestyles of parents. Many parents simply don't have time to help their children.

"Teachers give homework because it makes a valuable contribution to children's learning," says Mr Mullan, "although perhaps a small number are less convinced of its worth and give it because it is expected.''

Not all principals are against homework, of course.

Mary Mitchell O'Connor, principal of Harold School in Glasthule, Co Dublin, believes a limited amount is beneficial, because it reinforces the work done in the classroom and encourages parental involvement.

'I recognise that that it can be a stressful experience. If a parent finds that a child is having continuous difficulty with homework, he or she should get in touch with the teacher.

Maths can cause particular difficulties for parents, because many of the teaching methods currently used in schools have changed radically.

Addition, subtraction and long division are all taught using techniques that were not commonly used when parents were themselves in school. This can cause confusion at homework time.

Now that the IPPN has made its opinion known, pupils will be able to replace the traditional excuse, "the dog ate my work homework''.

Instead it could be: "The head hates my homework.''

Irish Independent

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