Rosh Hashanah: Does homework work?

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Rosh Hashanah: Does homework work?

A JFS class taking place
A JFS class taking place

For students who spent some of their summer completing projects for the start of term, scraping homework would be a result. Or would it? Louisa Walters investigates

Students at JFS realise that homework is an integral part of he curriculum

 Earlier this year, Eve Jardine-Young, the Headmistress at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, created quite a stir when she suggested in an interview with The Times that homework causes stress to pupils and that schools should consider abolishing it. Good idea, bad idea, or just simply controversial?

“Homework is an essential part of our pupils’ preparation for public examinations and, for the staff, a means of appreciating and assessing the understanding and learning of our pupils,” says Dr Mary Short, Headmistress at St Helen’s School in Northwood. ”That said, homework is only of value if it promotes independent thinking and learning, provides new opportunities for extending and deepening understanding, enables pupils to reflect on their own progress and learn content, and provides an accurate guide to progress. It loses value if it merely becomes a means of finishing off what could not be covered in the lesson or of generally ‘catching up’. At St Helen’s we are working towards a model where a great deal of what is done at home is ‘prep’ in the real sense of the word: the girls are guided in their preparation, which enables them to come to a lesson ready to make the very most of discussions, practical tasks, and new knowledge. By ‘flipping’ lessons, so that pupils read and explore the topics which are to be covered in the lesson, we ensure that the girls can make the most of their time in school.”

JFS Headmaster Jonathan Miller says that homework is an integral part of the curriculum and is essential to the successful completion of syllabi.

“The amount of time accorded to homework represents a significant proportion of the total learning time in each subject,” he says. “Stress is known to be caused when someone has too little or too much to do. We believe the same applies to homework. Used positively it can help a student structure their out-of-school time and learn independent study skills and self-organisation. It also serves to emphasise to students the personal satisfaction to be gained by taking responsibility for their own work.”

UCS Head Mark Beard
UCS Head Mark Beard

At UCS in Hampstead, Headmaster Mark Beard also believes that homework is vital. “It sets them up for independent learning when they are at university and beyond: ‘education is for life’.” UCS is piloting ‘flipping’, whereby the teacher sets a research exercise on the next topic, such that the pupils arrive to the lesson with questions on what they are about to learn.”

But Beard believes that homework needs to be organised sensibly with a published homework timetable including a clear guide on time spent that all teachers stick to, varying the nature of the tasks and making each one purposeful.

“As a father of a teenager myself, I know that homework can be the source of disagreements at home,” says Lee Rich, Assistant Headteacher at Immanuel College. “But if pupils organise themselves and try to complete work set sooner rather than later, there shouldn’t be too much of an issue. At Immanuel, we are in a delicate position in terms of balancing the wishes of our parents, who want their children to be stretched academically, and our students who serve a long school day. We want students to have the time to pursue their other interests and we believe that it is essential that families are able to enjoy time together. I don’t believe that a blanket ban on homework is necessary but a common-sense approach is required to ensure that students have the right balance between school and home.”


Ella Levey is in Year 9 at JFS and resents doing homework. “After a long day the last thing I want to do is more work! Homework makes me feel stressed and when I am rested and relaxed, I do better at school the next day. I don’t believe that homework prepares me for exams – I still have to revise very hard, no matter how well I have done in my homework throughout the year.

There are some teachers who understand this and so their homework is relevant and helpful. For example, before exams, they give us certain pages to read or time to make notes and this is much more useful. I have actually improved in certain subjects due to teachers who understand students and give us helpful, focused homework.

Duran Beck in Year 9 at Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School gets set up to four subjects a night. “I can see that homework tests our ability to use what we have learnt in class, but it definitely increases stress depending on the intensity and amount set. It does however help me prepare for exams as I can learn from my own mistakes and I can dig deeper into subject areas when researching alone. Homework also gives me the confidence to answer questions without guidance. I don’t think it should be abolished but it shouldn’t be excessive either.”

Georgia Walters completed her A levels at North London Collegiate School in the summer. Homework was always a major factor throughout her school life and even at her primary school, Radlett Prep, she remembers doing homework every night. “It was a mixture of consolidating class work, doing wider reading and project work. Sometimes it would make me overthink things and occasionally I would feel I had too much work, which would stress me, but ironically at other times it made me less stressed as I’d feel that I had consolidated my knowledge. . Eve Jardine-Young has got it wrong – homework should definitely not be abolished. I’m sure in many cases it could be set in smaller amounts, but it is vital in moderation.”

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