Should primary school homework be banned?

The case for banning homework.
The case for banning homework. Photo: Getty Images

The research suggests there's no academic benefit of homework for primary school children. Is it time to ban it completely?

It's an old debate and a polarising issue: is homework effective, and how much is too much? Those in favour see it as a way to consolidate the day's learning, teach responsibility and independent study. Those against it cite the ongoing battles parents face each afternoon and evening and the fact that it significantly cuts into family time.

A recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel they don't spend enough time with their children – and helping with homework was listed as one of the main factors.

The question of whether or not homework is effective or not is complex, its impact on academic achievement differing at different grade levels. Harris Cooper of Duke University has studied homework for over 25 years. He and his team of researchers conducted an analysis of homework studies from 1987 to 2003, to explore whether in fact it's beneficial and how much is appropriate for students.

Thirty five of the studies (which were correlational in nature) found little or no relationship between homework and achievement in primary school students. In addition, there was no relationship between time spent on homework and academic achievement. This is in contrast to the finding for secondary students, that time spent on homework was associated with better academic outcomes.

So why are the effects of homework different for primary and secondary school students. And what can we learn from this? Cooper cites the finding from cognitive psychology that there are age differences in children's ability to selectively attend to stimuli; In other words, their ability to concentrate. Younger children are therefore more likely to be distracted by their home environment, making homework less effective.

Writing in The New York Times Cooper, admitted "A little amount of homework may help elementary school students build study habits and learn skills developed through practice." However, he believes children should be assigned no more than ten minutes per grade level: ten minutes in first grade, twenty in second and so on, up to a maximum of two hours per night in high school.

It's a view that's echoed closer to home too. "There isn't much academic benefit in homework for primary school children," says Richard Walker, associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids," he said.

In an essay for Salon, author Heather Shumaker advocates for a complete ban on homework for primary school students suggesting that this can be achieved in a number of ways: families opting out, teachers fostering a culture of no homework or optional homework and schools "taking time to read the research and rekindle joy in learning."

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She argues that homework can also be damaging to the relationship between parents and their child. "Instead of connecting and supporting each other at the end of the day, too many families find themselves locked in the did you do your homework? cycle."

Shumaker suggests that, "What works better than traditional homework at the elementary level is simply reading at home. This can mean parents reading aloud to children as well as children reading instead."

"Homework has no place in a young child's life," she says. "With no academic benefit, there are simply better uses for after-school hours."

Do you agree? Should primary school homework be banned?