Southern Grove Primary School considers reading and physical activity more important than homework for young students. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
A small but potentially growing number of WA public schools are banning homework for primary students so they can spend more time relaxing, reading and playing.
At least four schools have introduced official “no homework” policies — all they ask of students is to read a little each night, preferably with their parents.
They argue homework is of no benefit to younger children and can even be detrimental because it gets in the way of important family and recreation time, which allows children to recharge their batteries after a busy day of learning at school.
It could be the start of a quiet revolution, with a number of other schools watching closely before taking the leap themselves.
Benefit of homework questioned
Bramfield Park Primary School, in the Perth suburb of Maddington, introduced its no homework policy last year, but it came with strings attached.
Principal Jayne Murray said the school wanted children reading or being read to every night, getting out and playing rather than being glued to a screen, and also getting a good night’s sleep.
Bramfield Park Primary School principal Jayne Murray says very few parents have asked for homework for their kids. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody )
“There’s lots of research to show that doing extra homework doesn’t have an educational benefit for our students,” Ms Murray said.
“They work really hard when they’re here everyday. They’re on task, they’re really learning a lot, so we think after school is a time to do something else, not be on their screens but get outside and play.
“It’s a stress for parents, it’s a stress for teachers.
“Finding that time to sit down with your child is difficult if you’re busy.”
She said only a small number of parents requested homework for their children and the school directed them to online learning resources including ABC Reading Eggs and Mathletics, or encouraged them to get a tutor.
Bramfield Park students work hard during the school day, and their principal says they deserve down time after school. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
‘We don’t need our children to be busy’
Newly opened Southern Grove Primary School, in the south Perth suburb of Southern River, introduced its no homework policy this year.
Currently the school only has kindergarten and pre-primary students, but the policy will apply to Years K-6 next year.
Southern Grove Primary School is more interested in fostering a love for reading than homework. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Principal Rebecca Burns said the decision was research-driven and the school had decided to foster a love of reading instead.
“I would like them to be reading, I would like them to be cooking with their parents,” she said.
“I would like them to be playing board games, I would like them to be outside doing some physical activity and sport, playing with their friends and also just having that down time.
“Somehow in society there’s a need to keep our children so busy, and we actually don’t need our children to be busy.
“We need them to be able to relax, have a break and just be themselves.”
Other schools adopting a similar approach include Honeywood Primary School in the outlying Perth suburb of Wandi and Bletchley Park Primary School in Southern River, where homework was banned 11 years ago.
But after a recent review, Bletchley Park has approved limited homework, allowing spelling lists, times tables, and project work for the final term in Year 6, to better prepare students for high school.
Southern Grove Primary principal Rebecca Burns says children need time to relax and be themselves. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
The great homework debate
The WA Education Department does not take sides in what can be a controversial debate.
It only requires schools to document their approach, taking into account the needs of students, their age and the context of the school.
Departmental guidelines stipulate that homework should not require unreasonable levels of parent help, should not impinge on family, recreational or cultural time, should not be given as a form of punishment, and should be directly linked to learning.
WA Education Department principal advisor Doug Cook said a blanket approach to homework does not work.
“Every school has a different context,” he said.
“If you look at the size of our state, from tiny little Wheatbelt schools with one teacher where kids go home from school and actually have work to do around a farm, extra tasks on top of that might make the home life difficult.
“We have remote schools, where some of the home lives aren’t ideal, and setting tasks for kids to take home into an environment where they may not be able to do it sets them up for failure.
“Making a blanket rule for a state this size, with so many different contexts, would be short-sighted.”
Good v bad homework
While the prospect of no homework is relished by some, not everyone is convinced.
Glenn Savage, a senior lecturer in education policy at the University of Western Australia, said there was a huge gulf between good homework and bad.
Glenn Savage says homework can help prepare kids for high school. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
There was also a strong body of research showing students reaped the rewards of homework if it was thought out correctly.
“I think there are some problems with the blanket-ban approach to homework,” Dr Savage said.
“What we should be doing is trying to inspire all teachers to understand what good homework practices look like, and then rolling that out across all schools and across all classrooms.
“You wouldn’t want to go from Year 6 having no homework, having never heard of the concept, to suddenly going to high school in Year 7 and being given homework every night, and not know how to be an effective learner when it comes to that.”
Southern Grove Primary School introduced its no homework policy this year. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Taking children out of the rat race
Applied social psychologist and educator Helen Street welcomed the decision of some primary schools to ditch homework.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Dr Street said.
“We have to stop trying to think of education as this race. And the sooner we start, and the more we do, the quicker we’ll get over the finish line.
“I think it’s really important that primary schools encourage children to have as much free, self-determined, creative time as possible.
“Free time is not time out from learning, it’s a really important part of learning.
“We need to think of the whole child and the whole of their learning, not simply about more and more academic structured work, which is actually diminishing creativity and diminishing autonomy.
“We’re ending up with a lot of children leaving Year 12 feeling really disengaged and despondent.”