What happened when a primary school stopped giving homework to its students

What happens when a school stops giving out homework?
What happens when a school stops giving out homework? Photo: Getty Images

Whether or not primary school students should be given homework is a longstanding – and polarising – debate.

Those in favour cite its benefits for consolidating what children have learnt during the day, while those against feel it cuts into family time – and that it's simply not a battle worth fighting when kids are exhausted after school.

For a primary school principal in Vermont, lingering questions about the effectiveness of setting homework led to him conducting an experiment. Students at Orchard School, which includes kids from K-5, were asked to read and play instead. And the results of their no-homework trial are certainly food for though.

School principal Mark Trifilio told the Washington Post that when the school year began, he sat down with his staff and gave them a proposal: what if we stopped homework in every year and replaced it with reading and outside play?

"All 40 voted yes," he said of his teaching staff, "and not just yes, but a passionate yes. When do you get 40 people to agree on something?"

The school then devised a no-homework policy, the details of which are listed on their website.

No Homework Policy: Student's Daily Home Assignment

1. Read just-right books every night – (and have your parents read to you too).

2. Get outside and play – that does not mean more screen time.

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3. Eat dinner with your family – and help out with setting and cleaning up.

4. Get a good night's sleep.

Six months later and the experiment has been a huge success. According to Mr Trifilio, the no-homework policy has not had a detrimental impact on students' academic progress and has given kids "time to be creative thinkers at home and follow their passions".

And while students are required to read, and are also given book recommendations, they're not required to fill out those dreaded reading logs. "We know that we all make up logs," Mr Trifilio said.

It's not only the teachers, however, who can see the benefits of binning formal homework: parents have also responded positively to homework-free afternoons. The "vast majority" of the 400 parents who responded to a post-experiment survey felt the change had resulted in their kids reading more and having time to pursue other activities.

Only a small number felt their children were missing out on further learning opportunities when formal homework ceased.

Research findings in the area certainly support Orchard School's approach. A review of studies conducted between 1987 and 2003 found little or no relationship between time spent on homework and academic achievement in primary school.

For high school students, however, the results were different. Time spent on homework for secondary school kids was associated with better academic outcomes.

Harris Cooper, who led the review and has studied the effectiveness of homework for over 25 years, cites the finding from cognitive psychology that there are age differences in children's ability to concentrate, when explaining the differences between homework for primary and secondary school kids. Primary school age kids, he explained, are more likely to be distracted by their home environment, making homework less effective.

It's a view shared by Richard Walker, associate professor of education at The University of Sydney. "There isn't much benefit in homework for primary school children," he told The Telegraph in 2015.

"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.

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