Monday, 16 March 2015


Parents should make use of a little-known power to negotiate with teachers over the volume of homework set for their children.

As the debate over the value of homework heats up again, Parents Victoria said it was a good idea to ​talk to teachers ​about​ homework and these ​discussions​ should include students.

Some primary schools in New South Wales are allowing parents to opt their children out of homework, and others are reviewing their homework policies as time-poor families struggle to keep up with the extra schoolwork being sent home.

Meanwhile, in Victoria, homework practices are under review, with the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development considering recommendations from a 2014 parliamentary inquiry.

That inquiry found strong evidence "and general agreement" that homework had almost no academic benefit for primary-school students, although it may help prepare them for secondary school. The inquiry recommended the department review its guidelines and commission research into the effectiveness of homework practices in Victorian schools.

The inquiry followed a report by the NSW education department that also found no evidence homework helped primary school students academically.

As the Victorian education department considers the inquiry's report – handed down last August – parents can negotiate with their children's teachers. The department confirmed there were no official bans on parents meeting their child's teacher to review homework, although certain schools may have their own rules.

Elaine Crowle, spokeswoman for Parents Victoria, lauded the idea and said plenty of parents were probably already making use of it – although she thought many parents would be keen on setting more homework for their children, not less.

"I think that's probably a great idea. Although the student should probably be part of that negotiation too."

"If a child's struggling, and they need a bit of extra help I think that's fantastic. Children who are bored need a bit of extra stimulation."

David Rothstadt, principal at Noble Park Primary School, does not think much of homework at all.

"I'm very aware of the research about homework that says it's essentially a waste of kids' time," he says. "I don't have much faith in homework, because at the end of the day you never know the conditions in which the children do it."

Noble Park's teachers still set homework in accordance with the Victorian Department of Education's guidelines – 30 minutes a night in the later years of primary school – but the rules are pretty loose. As long as a student is doing 20 minutes of reading a night, Mr Rothstadt says he's pretty happy.

At Western Sydney's Cambridge Park Public School parents can give permission to permanently excuse their children from homework and other schools, including Maroubra Junction, Yarrawarrah and Mingoola, having similar opt-out options.

The NSW Department of Education allows schools to decide their own homework policies and unlike other states, does not have recommend times for homework, although does suggest that homework not be given in kindergarten.

In Victoria, schools are told the early primary years (prep to year 4) should not be given more than 30 minutes a day and none on weekends, while older primary students should be given no more than 45 minutes homework a day.

Education academic Mike Horsley, who co-wrote the book Reforming Homework, said there was a "fair degree of difference" in how parents and teachers valued homework.

"For some parents, homework presents specific challenges in the modern lifestyles, so with the changes in the workplace and living arrangements, more traditional types of homework presents challenges and in some cases these challenges have turned into a fair bit of family conflict," Professor Horsley said.

"There is a fair bit of research that says homework doesn't have a great contribution to learning as measured by standardised tests but that does not mean we should abandon homework.

"We argued in our book that homework should be reformed and be much more aligned to how learning should occur."

French president Francois Hollande has said he wants to ban homework for children aged under 11 but Professor Horsley said he would not support this.

"We say in our book that we should not ban homework because it is important for kids to get themselves organised and manage their own learning, but if it is hours and hours of drill and practice, then we would not support that," he said.

A recent OECD report found that students in Australia's private schools do two hours more homework each week than their public school peers but their results were are no better once socio-economic advantage was taken into consideration.

At Glen Park I prefer students to read at night ( they maintain a reading log and are encouraged to be participate in the Premier's Reading Challenge) and to learn their multiplication tables. I send home charts, placemats, bookmarks and stickers to help them with that. In the past I have sent home homework that includes washing up, gardening, walking family pets, making their beds etc.

Story from yesterday's Age

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