Top principals weigh in on the great homework debate

Top principals weigh in on the great homework debate
Homework is a steadfast feature in many schools with teachers relying on the technique to reinforce learning and embed ideas – however, an increasing number of educators are eschewing the old approach with research also pointing to potential flaws – so who’s right?

Chris Presland is the president of NSW Secondary Principals' Council and principal at St Clair High School – he says homework plays an important part in students’ education, as long as it’s done right.
“We don’t have a problem with homework as long as it’s constructive and as long as it adds something to a student’s learning,” he says.

“So particularly in the high school setting, the concept of research-based homework assignments that enhance the learning that the kids are doing is fine but the problem that we have is where schools just set homework for the sake of setting homework – almost a child-minding device.”

Presland, who’s been the principal at St Clair High School since 2008, also says some parents hold misconceptions around homework which can influence how they perceive a school or teacher.

“A lot of parents think a school or teacher must be good if they set lots of homework but if that homework is just meaningless, it’s a total waste of time,” he tells the Educator.

“The kids are better off engaging in physical activity or conversation with other people – they’re going to learn a lot more than just doing stuff that’s not going to add anything to their learning.”

Angela Helsloot, principal of Allambie Heights Public School, also has a strong opinion on homework and recently put a stop to the practice.

Earlier this year, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the school had stopped sending students home with daily spelling and maths tasks – choosing instead to assign year 3 and 4 students a project every semester and year 5 and 6 students a project every term.

"That isn't mandatory, we say it's highly recommended," Helsloot told the Herald, adding that almost 100 per cent of students complete the project, compared to low rates of homework completion.

Helsloot also told the news outlet that homework had barely changed in the past 30 years, despite a major shift in teaching methods.

"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."