Three weeks into a new academic year and I am confident in saying that ‘everything is in full swing’. All students have settled, the race to get to the front of the lunch queue is on and extra-curricular clubs and activities, as well as subject clinics, are brimming with participants. On Monday we held our annual Club Fair in the Hall and it was wonderful to see so many students showing an interest in a varied array of things to do in and around their school day ranging from African Drumming, Art, Philosophy to engineering LEGO. This is one of the great things about our school; our students love to learn, try new things and keep busy.
There’s one other thing that we’re all doing now too; setting (teachers), completing (students) and giving feedback (teachers and students) on homework. Homework is a sometimes contentious word in the world of education; some love it, some hate it. It can be a focal point of discussion at parents’ evenings and the thought of it may indeed make you come out in a cold sweat yourself!
At BHHS we value homework greatly, seeing it as an integral part of any student’s learning process. It is for this reason that we reviewed our approach to homework in the summer term, last academic year. There is a great deal of research, blogs and articles available to us all, advocating and dismissing homework, contradictions a plenty. So, in consultation with staff and students, we have re-written the policy and reviewed our expectations.
Our students expressed their opinions on the value of homework addressing issues such as quality over quantity, the work having meaning and purpose and wanting feedback to drive intrinsic motivation, offering guidance for further improvement. Music to my ears.
Not one student actually perceived homework as torturous, but viewed it as a key element of learning, and a way to becoming independent and autonomous learners. John Hattie’s research supports this; on average, achievement of his study groups (over 100, 000 students across 161 studies) exceeded 62% of the levels of students not given homework. Prof Susan Hamilton (Institute of Education) says there is “hard evidence” from research that homework really does improve how well students achieve and a report by the EEF in 2016 found that the students who completed their homework could add an additional five months’ progress onto their learning. We all agree that homework does matter.
Therefore, the working party explored the other issues surrounding homework: ensuring there are clear outcomes to the task and that the work does not consume every free minute of each day.
We were finding too many students spending too long on homework, and feeling the pressures of work. I am sure by now you have had time to look at your daughter’s homework timetable for this academic year. If not, please have a look on Firefly. We have reduced the number of subjects setting homework each night, and the time to be spent on it. As a rule, there is a maximum of 2 subjects setting homework each night. The time spent on this work is incremental, in accordance to your daughter’s year group. For example, a student in Year 11 should expect one hour of homework per night/per subject compared to two thirty minute tasks for a Year 7 student.
I have mentioned some of the benefits of homework already – others include developing self-discipline, application of understanding and encouraging discussions between teachers and students about student learning. With reference to Dylan William’s work on formative assessment: if students are not acting on the feedback, the feedback is an expensive waste of time and, for feedback to have impact, it needs to be received as soon as possible after the work has been done. Therefore, feedback now will often be verbal as well as written or denoted as a grade. The grade may not even be mentioned, but effort will always be recognised. At BHHS we are more concerned about seeing improvement in work rather than seeing teacher marking.
So why these changes? I go back to my opening paragraph; our extra-curricular activities are bursting with students wanting to be involved in whole school life. We actively encourage this at BHHS – life at school is about more than just academic work. Indeed, as we all know striking a balance between work and other interests is key to success. It develops resilience, an outward looking approach to life and it’s also very attractive to friends, family and potential universities and employers to be able to discuss hobbies and interests. We pride ourselves on ensuring our students are ‘well-rounded individuals’ and to coin the Head’s phrase, not naval gazers.
Thus far, the changes have been well received. We shall review the changes later this term and I look forward to feeding back to you our findings. Please feel free to get in touch and share your observations too. As a parent your input is often key; you can now see on your Firefly page all the homework your daughter is set. This is an opportunity for you to understand what your daughter is working on, and to support her managing this work should it be necessary. You can also check that it is completed on time and deadlines are met. This, of course, means the dog no longer gets the blame for eating the homework!