View Comments
Call for homework reforms
Claire Mahoney helps sons Thomas and Nicholas with their homework. Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

The homework debate has been causing controversy for more than a century.

In one corner are those who think that children who spend six hours a day at school should not be expected to do even more school work when they get home, cutting into family and outdoor playtime.

In the other corner are those who believe that developing a homework routine early in life will help children be more successful in Year 12 and beyond.

In an attempt to get to the bottom of the issue, Australian academics Mike Horsley, from Central Queensland University, and Richard Walker, from Sydney University, analysed the available research in their book Reforming Homework, launched last month.

They concluded that time spent on homework, particularly in primary school, was simply not reflected in student achievement.

But rather than ban homework, the book argues in favour of changing the way it is done.

Professor Horsley said primary school children should be given less homework of a higher quality.

Though there may be no academic advantage, he said a homework routine could help children develop self-management skills and build links between home and school.

But to do that effectively, he said parents and teachers needed to think about homework differently.

"Less drill and practice because, if you can do the drill and practice, you already know it and if you can't, then there's going to be anxiety," he said. "Put more focus on learning tasks that are challenging but not too challenging."

Curtin University senior education lecturer Eva Dobozy, who has published a research paper on teachers' use of homework assignments, said she was concerned the pendulum in WA was swinging back towards children getting more homework at a younger age.

"So children have to sit at a desk when they're very young," she said. "It's really impeding early childhood and curtailing play-based learning."

She said teachers were sandwiched between parents who believed that repetitive tasks turned their children off homework and those who believed more practice helped develop academic rigour.

She said research had found that some types of low-level homework, such as finishing work not done in class, was often seen as punishment by less capable students.

Dr Dobozy said homework should be optional for young children. "What we need to do is to teach productivity skills and help children build intrinsic motivation," she said. "And the way to do this is to give young children interesting homework, such as asking a parent how to do something and bringing the answer back."

She said homework for older children was useful, particularly if it was inquiry or project-based.

Last month, French President Francois Hollande proposed banning homework and extending the school day to provide equal education opportunities.

He argued that homework favoured wealthy students, who were more likely to have a good working environment at home, including parents with time and energy to help them.

The Education Department leaves decisions on homework to individual schools.

Claire Mahoney, who has two sons at Wesley College, said she believed balanced homework was important and repetition helped children learn.

Thomas, in Year 8, gets far more homework than his younger brother Nicholas, in Year 4, who averages about 10 minutes a day.

"I think it's been an integral part of how well my boys have done academically," she said. "I have always done homework with them."