Formal homework ditched in favour of daily reading and 'mental maths'

Pupils will be asked to read for 20 minutes a day instead. Credit: PA

Is homework a valuable learning tool for schoolchildren - or a negative drain on energy and time?

It's a topic which has caused heated debate among educators and researchers for decades, with varying results.

But one primary school in Devon has decided to test the water for itself - ditching formal homework and replacing it with regular reading and mental arithmetic practice.

Between now and the end of the school year, pupils up to Year Five at Littletown Primary Academy in Honiston will not be given written homework tasks as part of a trial scheme to test the impact on learning.

They will be expected to do 20 minutes of reading a night, plus 'mental maths' tasks instead - and headteacher David Perkins insists students are closely monitored by staff to ensure they are doing what's asked.

He told ITV News the school had decided to trial the new way of working after consultation with parents, teachers, and the students themselves.

He said it follows a number of research papers and studies which have suggested the traditional weekly written maths and English actually had a lower benefit to long-term learning than daily reading tasks.

Littletown Primary Academy in Honiston. Credit: Google Maps

In a newsletter to parents, Mr Perkins said the pressure caused by homework had caused some families distress, and were not always valued by staff.

Speaking to ITV News, he said:

We're doing something interesting, and it's only a trial until the end of the year, when we'll look at the effect it has had.

There's a lot of research out there which has found that reading 20 minutes a day and practicing times tables or division is a better foundation for future learning than formal homework tasks.

I'd be lying if I said all my parents are happy about it, but what they are happy to do is give it a go.

If we can improve learning for children, it's worth trying something different.

– David Perkins, headteacher

He said it also lightened the workload for teachers, who were having to mark both English and maths homework every week on top of lesson planning and marking other classwork.

The school wants to raise money to improve its library. Credit: PA

"That's an additional 30-odd books they were marking every week for both English and maths, when homework actually scores very low in terms of the impact on future outcomes," Mr Perkins added.

He said the school had also recently refurbished its kitchens, so all school meals were now freshly prepared on-site, following research into the impact of nutrition on concentration and learning.

"We're trying to do things which evidence suggests might make a difference," he said.

From Monday (Dec 3), pupils will be taking part in a sponsored read to try to raise cash towards improving the school library.

For every £600 raised, Usborne Books has pledged to donate an extra £360 worth of books.