Homework, that FoI request and problems with the school system

Well homework is all the rage at the moment isn’t it? Barely a day goes by when it isn’t in the headlines.

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Children doing homework, even so they are under no legal obligation to do so. Pic credit: Rachel on Unsplash.

This time around, a group of parents, seemingly mobilised by a Facebook group, has submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to Damian Hinds, the Education Secretary. The request asked if there is a legal obligation on parents to ensure their primary school aged children complete their homework.

According to this article in the Sunday Times, which featured a contribution from Tom Briggs, the man behind the Diaryofthedad blog, these parents were told that no, there was no legal requirement for them to force their kids to do homework. Schools and headteachers, however, are at liberty to punish children who don’t do homework, possibly by being made to stay in at lunchtime or something similar.

I think this FoI request points to a bigger issue within England’s education system, but I’ll come on to that in a moment. Ultimately, however, I think these parents are trying to do the right thing, but getting it a bit wrong.

I can only assume that having been told that there is no legal requirement for mums and dads to do homework with their kids, many of these parents will either reduce the amount of homework completed at home or stop doing it altogether. Why ask the question in the first place if this wasn’t the intention?

Yes, I appreciate homework for primary school aged children in contentious. I know from personal experience that getting two children at two different developmental stages to sit down and do 20 minutes of work each night can be a struggle. Yes, I am building up to a but. . .

Where do we draw the line with this? Some parents object to sports day. Some mums and dads object to school trips. Some parents object to their children being taught religious education. None of these aspects of the education system are governed by the legal system. If parents stop doing things simply because they legally don’t have to, well, the education system could break down entirely.

It also begs the question of what education system we want. If homework were legally enforceable, we’d have to assume that police officers would become a common sight in schools because Alex and Lisa had failed to practice their spellings two weeks in a row. A little heavy handed and counterproductive? Just a bit.

And yet there’s another aspect to all of this. While I don’t agree with mums and dads hinting they aren’t going to do homework with their kids because they aren’t legally compelled to, it suggests there is a bigger issue within the education system. It’s an issue that particularly affects the fiendishly complex school system in England but doesn’t impact, certainly not to the same degree, in the three other devolved regions of the United Kingdom.

With its mix of academy schools, state schools, voluntary aided schools, free schools and so on, the level of competition between English schools has clearly become too great. The desire to get to the top of league tables and produce the best SATS results, have the best attendance record and so on means more homework is being issued. I also hear of schools becoming more selective as to which pupils they will accept and teachers being put under immense pressure, especially within the academy school system. Pastoral care of kids and ensuring they get a fully rounded education, well, this all seems to have taken a back seat in many schools.

This is a problem that’s much bigger than parents struggling or being unwilling to do homework with young school children. This is an issue with the education system full stop. While I don’t agree with the premise of this FoI request, I am sympathetic towards it.

As I have said on this blog previously, I also think the focus of this homework debate is in slightly the wrong place. The focus for these discussions tends to be on the amount of homework given to primary school children. Pity the secondary school kids who are expected to do two hours of work a night.

How are teens meant to have interests outside of school? Add in time to commute to school and time to eat and that’s pretty much an entire evening gone, dedicated largely to school work so they struggle to complete Duke of Edinburgh Award, attend football lessons, gymnastics classes and so on.

What are your thoughts on this? Is it ever right not to do something with your kids simply because the law doesn’t compel you to? Is this a sign that there is a bigger issue with the education system in England? Do you worry more about the homework given to primary school aged children or secondary school aged kids? I invite you to leave a comment below.

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13 Comments

  1. October 23, 2018 / 8:37 am

    Our kids don’t have any homework at their school, it seems to work (according to sats results) but it concerns me that the kids will get the shock of their lives at secondary school!

    I do work with them at home but not Ina structured way.

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:46 am

      Absolutely Lady Stephanie, I think most kids and their parents do get a shock when they discover just how much work they are expected to do at home at night when they reach secondary school. It’s not the primary schools that bother me so much.

  2. October 23, 2018 / 8:52 am

    Great post, John and thanks for the mention too!

    Yes, it’s definitely a complex debate and I see what you mean about its potential to kick off others. Personally, I think primary school children should only read outside school hours as they need time to process the things they’ve learned each day.

    Reading is a great way of reinforcing good educational habits and the beauty of it is that kids love stories so much that they probably don’t even think of it as homework!

    Our education system strikes me as a mess at the moment and it seems to be more about ticking boxes and meeting targets set by the government. Schools are feeling the pressure and, by setting homework in the hope that it will increase grades, they’re passing it on to children and parents.

    I really think that we need a reboot. Kids need to be kids rather than Ofsted statistics and have time to be themselves rather than taught to work themselves into the ground from an early age.

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:44 am

      Yes, a reboot would be good. I think the devolved parliaments probably looked at England and go “no way”. Competition is great, but it can’t be at the expense of our kids have a rounded, quality education. there’s far too much box ticking at the moment.

  3. October 23, 2018 / 9:14 am

    I’m not sure people are looking to refuse to do it because they don’t have to. That may be the intention of some, but others might be seeking the legalities behind it because they want to choose not to do it to increase family time with their children knowing they won’t be punished.

    I don’t believe in homework or the education system full stop. It’s massively broken. I’ve witnessed first hand on two occasions the mental strain testing can have on children. The system has become a league table and individual children’s well being is far from being a priority.

    All this talk about mental health and well being for not only adults but children, school is one of the biggest if not the biggest problems causing mental strain for our young people.

    I have 2 in secondary school and the amount of work they’re expected to do is unbelievable and for what? A couple of test results that for the vast majority mean absolutely jack ****!

    One of my girls will be successful in an academic career I’m sure of it. The other will do average at best in her exams but flourish in a creative career becoming equally as successful.

    The whole thing is a load of ***e and today’s generation of children are being punished by older generations selfish, ignorant competitiveness.

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:42 am

      Oh yes David, I remember you commenting on my homework posts in the past! I feel your dislike of homework and clearly with teens you’ve seen more of this than I have. Within England, the school system is in trouble. It needs overhauling and while I have no issue with private sector involvement, for many schools this is opaque and its led to a focus on league tables and results, ot producing creative individuals who can think for themselves.

  4. October 23, 2018 / 1:10 pm

    Ah, John, my post must have provoked a thought or two about this – or was this pencilled in before I covered the subject last week?
    I’ve had time to reflect on my post somewhat. I’m still largely against homework, but still feel a moral obligation to contribute to my child’s education. I could if I so wished to, make doing homework my satisfaction of that obligation. But, I’d rather contribute to my daughters’ education in other ways.
    Should we feel happy about not doing something just because the law does not enforce it? I’m not sure. I think some study at home is healthy, covering the basics, reading, and maybe maths. What I failed to cover in my post was that revision for tests is vital, and learning to do that before it’s absolutely necessary is important. In my line of work, studying in my own time has meant getting where I am today. I am a successful IT Manager with only GCSE level education, My knowledge has come from lots of study in my own time because I wanted to get on. But, as I’ve seen with so many young applicants for IT apprentice roles through the years, you cannot teach this mental attitude towards self-learning.
    I’m rambling now….

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:39 am

      You’ve hit the crux of my argument Dave. Just because the law doesn’t compel you to do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Where does that argument end? As i said, kids could end up being hauled out of sports day, school trips and so on.

      Some home study is fine by me. It shouldn’t be burdensome and apart from anything else, it gives parents a window in their offspring’s school life.

  5. October 23, 2018 / 5:04 pm

    This is very interesting as you know I’m in wales and the girls don’t do homework, all they get is reading books once a week which is fine by me. I will say that in year 6 I would like to see some homework structure in place to at least prepare them a bit for high school. Ultimately if they want to succeed academically they will have to put the effort inside school and at home. It’s about finding the right balance for me. Which I Believe is achievable. The schooling system needs help and possibly updating but in my humble opinion is far from broken as somebody suggested in the comments. Very good and informative read John as always

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:37 am

      I am with you Nigel. Some reading, some spellings, some maths is fine. It shouldn’t be burdensome. For my kids, things haven’t been too bad but I see homework being ramped up. The real issue, I feel, are the academy schools. not sure if you have them in Wales but they’re all about results, not providing a rounded education. The system isn’t toally broekn, kids are still getting an education, but the system desperately needs to change.

  6. October 24, 2018 / 1:27 am

    I think things have gotten even worse as far as outside activities since I had to check homework and made sure it was getting done. The number of extra sports and activities had gotten out of hand decades ago from my viewpoint but I guess things have gotten more competitive, I don’t know.
    As far as structure, it’s never too soon and it’s essential to succeed academically.

    • John Adams
      Author
      October 24, 2018 / 6:35 am

      Ah, now that’s a very good point. You don’t want to burden kids with after school activities. My eldest. however, is a really talented gymnast. If she has two hours of homework a night from the age of 11 that’s an activity I worry she won’t be able to keep up. As for younger kids, I have no issue with homework so long as it isn’t burdensome. the problem we have in the UK, particularly England, is that some schools are sending kids home with work they should have done in the classroom. We have some major, underlying issues with t he school system on this side of the Atlantic.