The Homework is Optional, it’s the Workload that’s Non-negotiable

As a teacher, or even as a parent, what are your thoughts on homework? An essential part of a young person’s learning that consolidates and stretches or an unnecessary add on for both teachers and students whose success is dependent on the engagement of the parents.
Philip Morant School and College in Colchester made the headlines this week after the headteacher made the announcement that traditional homework has been phased out (though the school’s website offers self-study opportunities for students) in order to alleviate teachers’ workload and allow staff the time gained to work on lesson planning.
Philip Morant is not the first school to make a statement around banning homework. Last year, Cheltenham Ladies’ College was involved in some very public debate around the value of homework in modern education and its potential adverse effect on mental health.
But in an era when more teachers than ever better consider leaving the profession because of workload and even the government acknowledges that primary school teachers are working an average of almost sixty hours a week in term time, is a move away from homework setting and marking the best option? The truth is that even with our working hours so well documented and teacher shortages so high, it’s still wrong to make an educational decision based on workload. The homework debate needs to be conducted on the merits and downsides of homework in its own right. Looking just at how it impinges on teachers and not now it impinges on students surely plays into the hands of our critics.
But what about those sixteen hour days and those lost weekends that are so familiar to so many teachers? If it’s true to say that teachers’ working conditions shouldn’t dictate educational policy, then the converse is also true. What we have in place currently is education practice defined by politicians and then imposed on teachers with almost no say given to those who know their students best. In this way teacher working hours have been expected to stretch further and further to cope with ever the increasing demands of planning, progress, paperwork as well as setting and marking homework.
That this should be how things have come to be, is of course a nonsense. Our teachers, and our youngsters need to get back to a common sense approach to education where the curriculum is designed by those who know children best – teachers. Additionally, but no less importantly, the expectation that teachers have a balanced life needs to be a non-negotiable.

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