Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Monday, 22 September 2008 13:03 UK

Pupils given break from homework

Boys doing homework
Three or four hours a night is common for high achieving schools

A top school has radically cut the amount of homework it sets, saying too much will put pupils off learning.

Tiffin boys' school, in Kingston, south west London, has limited homework to 40 minutes per night, saying pupils should have more time for their own interests.

Head teacher Sean Heslop said boys had been doing up to four hours a night, and that what had been set was often "mechanistic" and "repetitive".

Homework is not compulsory in England's schools but is officially encouraged.

The government's guidelines for schools in England say children should be doing homework from the day they start primary school.

The boys absolutely love it - but there has been a mixed response from parents
Sean Heslop
Head teacher of Tiffin School

They say 10 and 11-year-olds should be doing half an hour of homework every day, rising to between 90 minutes and two-and-a-half hours a night for older children.

But research has cast doubt on its effectiveness, and has even suggested that too much is counter-productive. Some independent schools have abolished the practice.

And earlier this year a teaching union, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, called for an end to homework in primary schools and for it to be scaled back in secondary schools.

Mr Heslop said the school had spent two years looking at teaching and learning in class time which inevitably had led staff to look at what homework was being set.

Now it sets just 40 minutes per night plus 20 minutes of independent learning, which could include playing music or doing sport, for example.

He said: "The self-discipline of going away and sitting by yourself and doing work is obviously a good thing, but we didn't need to do four hours of it.

"The more we looked at what was being set, it came over as quite mechanistic and repetitive.

"We thought, if there's one way to put students off learning, that's the way to do it."

Daily homework guidelines
Years 5-6: 30 minutes
Years 7-8: 45 to 90 minutes
Year 9: 1 to 2 hours
Years 10-11: 1.5 to 2.5 hours

It was a case of quality not quantity, he said, with work being set in a more targeted way.

"The boys absolutely love it. But there has been a mixed response from parents."

Some had said they were glad to have more time with their sons but others were concerned that less homework might have a negative impact on their exam results.

He also said there had been a positive response from teachers, with one saying she was pleased she no longer had to set pointless homework - and mark it.

Mr Heslop added: "Because it was four hours homework a night, not all work was being marked.

"We just feel it is a much more honest conversation that we are having with students and parents."

Homework at primary school is probably pointless
Jeremy, Plymouth

A spokespersom for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said: "Homework is not compulsory, but we do encourage teachers to set children work to do outside school hours.

"A good, well organised homework programme helps children and young people to develop the skills and attitudes they will need for successful, independent, lifelong learning.

"Homework need not, and should not, get in the way of other activities that children do after school."

In Wales, there is also no statutory homework requirement and it is down to the head teacher to decide what and how much is set.

Parents bemoan state of childhood
29 Feb 08 |  Education
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12 Oct 07 |  Education
Schools try abolishing homework
25 May 05 |  Education
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05 Jun 06 |  Education

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