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Cantley and Horning Primary Schools reveal they will scrap homework and encourage families to spend quality time together instead

PUBLISHED: 08:00 24 July 2017 | UPDATED: 16:48 24 July 2017

Head of Cantley Primary School and Horning Prmary School, Chris Aitken. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Head of Cantley Primary School and Horning Prmary School, Chris Aitken. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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The headteacher of two Norfolk primary schools has revealed they will ditch homework and instead encourage families to spend quality time together.

Chris Aitken, headteacher at Horning and Cantley Primary Schools, has told parents the new policy, which will come into force in September, is designed to enthuse pupils about learning while they are in school and offer a more rounded education.

Instead of poring over work, families will be encouraged to go on bike rides, camp under the stars and paint together, before logging what they’ve been up to.

It’s a shift which will reignite the debate over the place of homework.

While many praise its academic benefit and say it prepares pupils for their next step, others say it piles pressure on stressed students, takes away from family time and widens the class divide.

Though Mr Aitken believes there is merit to homework, he hopes it will be outweighed by having refreshed, enthused pupils who he believes will be more open to classroom learning.

Cantley Primary School and Nursery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCantley Primary School and Nursery. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

“We had Ofsted at both schools last year and we were told that most pupils do well here, which was based on our SATs results,” he said. “While I was pleased, it’s also frustrating - getting pupils good results doesn’t mean they will be happy or successful.”

He said with both schools in a strong position, it was time to launch his Everyone Leaves Ready project, which aims to make children “more happy, confident and inquisitive than they already are”.

Alongside scrapping homework, he will develop a resilience, independence and problem solving curriculum focus, which will become a “core” subject alongside English and maths.

In a letter to parents, Mr Aitken said: “Current education policy and accountability focuses heavily on English and maths and while we agree that these are very important aspects of our children’s education, they are certainly not the only bit that matters.

“From September, we will be removing homework in its current state. We feel the most valuable part of homework is to give opportunities to families to spend quality time together, doing fun and engaging things.”

Trafalgar College principal Ian Burchett. Picture: James BassTrafalgar College principal Ian Burchett. Picture: James Bass

Ideally, he said, activities should involve a challenge, and families will be encouraged to share photos, videos or memories from the experience. A list of activities will be created for inspiration.

While the plans are new, he said feedback so far was positive - and that, instead of risking results, he hopes it will see them improve.

Research on the impact of homework is split - while some studies connect it to stress, others show links to better results, with much depending on a pupil’s age. Its influence on outcomes has been shown to be minor at primary level, but more significant at secondary.

In a survey with 167 parents on our website, when asked whether children have been left stressed by homework, 50pc said yes and 50pc said no.

Almost a quarter, 24pc, said, on average, their child does not do homework each night, 41pc said 15 or 30 minutes, 24pc said one or two hours and 10pc said two or three hours.

Trafalgar College principal Ian Burchett. Picture: James BassTrafalgar College principal Ian Burchett. Picture: James Bass

Though it remains an uncommon move, Cantley and Horning will not be the first schools to scrap homework - the Inspiration Trust hit headlines in 2013 when its Jane Austen College, in Norwich, did so, a move emulated by fellow trust academy Trafalgar College, in Great Yarmouth, when it opened last year.

Instead, students do independent study during its extended school day, a policy which Trafalgar principal Ian Burchett said had been a hit.

“We have had students transferring to the school one the basis that we don’t have homework,” he said. “Parents really get on board with the extended school day idea.

“The main feedback we have from students is that when they leave, they don’t take that work with them.”

A pupil doing homework. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA WireA pupil doing homework. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

What is the norm?

In 1998, Labour set schools homework guidelines - an hour a week for five to seven-year-olds, rising to 2.5 hours for 14 to 16-year-olds.

But in 2012, then education secretary Michael Gove scrapped the guidelines and put it back into headteachers’ hands.

Now, the picture varies, with some leaving it at teachers’ discretion, and others offering a more formal timetable.

Many Norfolk and Suffolk schools have homework policies, telling parents what to expect, and the majority of those include weekly reading and spellings.

Others are more prescriptive, with hourly suggestions and even a “menu” of homework for children to pick from.

One primary school sets one hour of homework a week for years one and two, 90 minutes a week for years three and four and 30 minutes a day for years five and six.

Another says children in years three and four should be doing two and a half hours a week.

What are your thoughts? Leave them in the comments below.

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