‘The light went on’ – Sun Valley principal on axing homework
Following Sun Valley Primary’s decision to scrap all school homework, News24 users had their say on the idea, with the overwhelming majority in favour of scrapping homework altogether. We also spoke to principal Gavin Keller.
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Cape Town – In a survey on News24, the vast majority, 1 356 users (88.4%) of the 1 534 total respondents, felt that all schools should do away with homework completely.

80.8% said they were overwhelmed with the amount of homework their children brought home each day, with only 9.7% stating the allotted homework was adequate, and 9.6% stating they did not have children.

Only 7.5% of respondents felt homework was ‘very important’ to their child’s development, with half, 50.5%, indicating that it was only ‘moderately important. 42% felt homework was ‘not important’ at all.

Almost two thirds felt homework only became important once children reached high school level (Grades 8-12), with only 18.9% indicating that homework was important at primary school.

Lastly, 45.8% of respondents said their children spent more than 90 minutes on homework each week day, with a further 31.6% stating their children spent between an hour and 90 minutes on daily homework.

Homework survey

Homework survey

‘Default teaching mode’

News24 spoke to Sun Valley Primary principal Gavin Keller to ask him about our users’ feedback.

“I think the results shout that for the whole homework concept, teachers go into ‘default teaching mode’,” Keller said on Tuesday.

“We have a tendency to be so pressurised by curriculum overload. When we don’t finish the work in class, we default to this idea of, ‘finish this for homework’.

“When we unpacked this idea at our school, what it really meant was that our planning wasn’t good. We hadn’t got our macro-planning sorted, learning to cram all this material into 200 school days.

“Teachers need those days to embed these particular ideas and values.”

‘The light went on’

Keller said the school’s approach was informed by global research, including American scholar Bill Deresievicz’s Excellent Sheep, and was driven by one particular question: How can we develop innovation and creativity?

"We took the age of the child, that’s key. Your focus period if you’re in Grade 1 is only 7 minutes, only 10 minutes in Grade 7, and 17 minutes if you’re in matric.

“Our goal is to never exceed that focus period for important tasks we assign.

“We tell the children, ‘now you are going to do this task’, and they have until the allotted time or until the end of the period to finish the task.

“Once the time’s up, they rule off and they hand in, and we assess them time-on-task. Can they do the work in the allotted time?

The feedback was immediate, he said, which then made assessing their next teaching input that much easier.

“We then could assess each child on a very personal basis; this group didn’t do well here, this group did well there, etc.

“When we made that shift, the light went on.”

‘When you love reading, the sky’s the limit’

Sun Valley Primary school has been running its focus group for six months now.

"There were two, very intensive assessments, and their grades [of those who didn’t do homework] have way exceeded even what we expected," he said.

Keller said he hopes to alter teaching methods from volume-based work, to personalised performance.

“Our plan is there is no uniform homework, where each child is expected to complete the same homework, which was in itself very similar to the work they had done in class.

“It’s based on personal performance tasks. It just gives the children a much better chance to do better in the areas that they struggle.

He also said the school replaced the time children would traditionally spend on homework, with reading, which is also tailored to the child’s interests.

“As long as you spend a minimum of 20 minutes a day reading, you’re exposed to 1.8 million words a year, and you read within the 90th percentile of readers.

“If you can read, you can learn. [And] if we can develop a love for reading, the sky’s the limit.”

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