Sydney school scraps homework
Students at Allambie Heights Public School in northern Sydney are more engaged since their teachers stopped giving homework.
As a child, primary school principal Angela Helsloot was always given homework and, as a teacher, she has marked homework sheets nearly every day.
But 20 years into her career, Mrs Helsloot has made the decision to stop the practice at Allambie Heights Public School.
She said she had never thought too much about homework until last year, when a parent asked about its purpose at a P&C meeting.
The school decided to survey students, parents and teachers on whether they thought it was valuable, and the responses were surprising.
Parents overwhelmingly had most doubts about the value of homework, with 70 per cent saying it was only somewhat important to their child's learning.
When the results of the survey were combined with a growing body of research that has found homework makes little difference in learning outcomes for primary-aged students, the decision was easy.
Since the beginning of this year, the school has stopped sending students home with daily spelling and maths tasks, and instead gives years 3 and 4 students a project every semester and years 5 and 6 students a project every term.
"That isn't mandatory, we say it's highly recommended," Mrs Helsloot said.
The NSW Department of Education describes homework as "a valuable part of schooling ... [which] establishes habits of study, concentration and self-discipline", but allows schools to develop their own homework policy "in consultation with their communities".
Mrs Helsloot said nearly 100 per cent of Allambie Heights students do the project, compared to low rates of homework completion, and it has opened up a topic of discussion between students, parents and teachers.
A recent project required students to research a man-made feature of Australia, and Mrs Helsloot said the tasks were better linked to the skills students will need throughout their lives.
"They have to be able to research collaboratively and communicate well," she said.
"What they're doing now is more aligned with history, geography, science and technology than maths and English."
She said principals from three nearby schools have contacted her to ask about the success of the new policy.
Mrs Helsloot, who started teaching in 1997, said homework had barely changed, even though teaching methods have undergone a major shift.
"Homework is exactly like it was in the 1980s and '90s," she said.
"It's probably too much, kids do so much outside of school now, going straight to rugby and swimming."
Freya McVey, who was in kindergarten last year when the school changed its policy, said she liked to go swimming and watch television after school.
"Homework is what you do at home but I've never gotten it do it," Freya said.
Mrs Helsloot said: "Homework is always related to what they're doing in the classroom but if a child hasn't grasped it, it just becomes a source of stress and the parent takes on the role of teacher.
"But how we teach maths now is different to how parents learnt it so kids get confused between what they're told at school and at home."
Removing homework has also led to a better use of class time.
"You lost two hours a week setting and marking homework with the kids, that's my own experience," Mrs Helsloot said.
"Now you've got that time back in the classroom."