Wednesday, March 28, 2012

French call for boycott of homework

Children would be better off reading a book rather than doing tasks at home which are useless and tiring, parents and teachers say.

A group of French parents and teachers have called for a two-week boycott of homework in primary schools, saying it is useless, tiring and reinforces inequalities between children.

They say homework pushes the responsibility for learning on parents and causes rows between themselves and their children. And they conclude children would be better off reading a book.

"If the child hasn't succeeded in doing the exercise at school, I don't see how they're going to succeed at home," said Jean-Jacques Hazan, the president of the FCPE, the main French parents' association, which represents parents and pupils in most of France's educational establishments.

"In fact, we're asking parents to do the work that should be done in lessons."

Homework is officially banned in French primary schools and has been since 1956. But many teachers ignore this and send children home with exercises.

Catherine Chabrun, president of the teachers' organisation Co-operative Institute of Modern Schools, says homework also reinforces inequalities.

"Not all families have the time or the necessary knowledge to help their offspring," she said.

The protesters calling for the ban say no one is contesting the idea of children being given "devoirs" - or exercises - just that they should be done during the school day and not at home. "Teachers don't realise the unbelievable pressure they are putting children under," Mr Hazan said.

The question of whether young children should do homework has been a matter of fierce debate and disagreement in France since 1912. The anti-homework campaigners stand little chance of banning it, even for two weeks, but their blog, which has already had 22,000 visits in the past fortnight, hopes to put the perennial controversy back on the political agenda.

A statement from the FCPE said: "Either a pupil has understood the lesson and succeeded in doing the exercises in class, in which case homework is a waste of time and stops them reading, for example, or they haven't understood and it's not at home in the absence of a teacher that they're going to do better."

Not all parents agree. Myriam Menez, general-secretary of PEEP, another school parents' association, told Le Parisien giving primary school children homework prepared them for secondary school.


British schools earn more money from students taking media studies than maths

Schools and colleges receive more money if their A-level pupils take subjects such as media studies or psychology instead of maths, MPs will be told today.

Maths is losing out in  ‘subject premiums’ worth hundreds of pounds per pupil, Tory Elizabeth Truss will tell the Commons during a debate on the crisis in England’s maths education.

It comes at a time when the number of sixth-formers studying maths in England is the  lowest in the OECD group of advanced nations.

Under a sixth-form funding  formula known as ‘weighting’,  lessons in less traditional subjects such as media studies receive 12 per cent more funding.

Calling for an overhaul of the system, Mrs Truss said: ‘Britain has a serious issue with maths education.

‘Government funding should reflect the value of mathematics and the difficulty of recruiting teachers into the subject.’

The MP for South West Norfolk, who has previously written a report on academic rigour and social mobility, added: ‘I would argue subjects like media  studies should not be getting  an extra weighting at all.’

Mrs Truss said the subject  premium should instead be applied to maths and further maths in an attempt to boost numbers of pupils studying the subject. Students at comprehensive schools are half as likely to study maths as their privately-educated peers but considerably more likely to study media studies.

Mrs Truss added only half of comprehensive sixth-forms offer further maths, which puts  thousands of students out of contention to study science and maths at top universities.

Under the funding formula, each sixth-form pupil attracts a basic sum of £2,920. This is adjusted upwards or downwards depending on the subjects studied and factors including the school or college’s location.  A-levels in media studies and psychology and lab-based  sciences such as physics  and biology receive 12 per cent more than maths, English or foreign languages.

A pupil studying three A-levels in the higher funding bracket would attract £350 more than a classmate taking three in the lower.

Non A-level subjects with practical content – such as floristry and bricklaying – are given even higher weightings.

The Young People’s Learning Agency, which funds sixth-form subjects, said the reason for the weightings is that some subjects involve buying more equipment or are taught in smaller groups. But Mrs Truss points out that schools are forced to pay  significantly more to secure good maths teachers than in the  subjects with higher weightings.

She said maths should be given a 30 per cent higher weighting and further maths 50 per cent.

Her call came as plans are being drawn up for a range of maths qualifications to be made available to sixth-formers to encourage almost all youngsters to study the subject until the age of 18.

Teenagers would be able to pick from an ‘a la carte’ menu of qualifications including the traditional maths A-level and other courses which are more demanding than GCSE maths but short of a full A-level.

A recent report by Professor Alison Wolf found those holding a maths A-level, at any grade, go on to earn ten per cent more than their peers who do not.

A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘We consulted on changes to 16-19 funding at the end of last year, and we are considering the responses.

‘We are undertaking a root and branch review of how maths is taught in schools, attracting the best maths graduates into the profession by offering bursaries of up to £20,000, and strengthening training through our network of specialist teaching schools.  ‘We are also overhauling GCSEs and A-levels to make sure they are robust and in line with the best education systems in the world.’


Australia: Expert argues university degrees overrated

HAVING a university degree may be "grossly overrated", a leading education research body says.

The National Centre for Vocational Education Research wants to debate the merits of university degrees because it will advance thinking around expanding the tertiary sector.

It is partnering with St James Ethics Centre to bring the live debate, Intelligence Squared Australia, to Adelaide in July to debate the idea that "having a university degree is grossly overrated".

Managing director Dr Tom Karmel said the purpose of the debate was to tease out the issue, because while there were many benefits to having a university degree there were other paths to consider as well.

"Are we looking at credentialism, where everyone will have a degree when they don't really need one," he said.  "There are many jobs around you do not need a degree for and wouldn't want a degree for."

The Federal Government wants 40 per cent of Australians aged between 25 and 34 to have a bachelor degree by 2020.

Skills Australia has estimated that in the five years to 2015 Australia will need an additional 2.1 million people in the workforce with a vocational education qualification at Certificate III level or higher.

"When the Government make these decisions you always have to check against reality and make sure people are getting a good return from their degree," Dr Karmel said.

"(But) as we expand the number of people with degrees, on the whole, the return is holding up."

National Tertiary Education Union assistant secretary Matthew McGowan said degrees were very important for Australians to compete intellectually on an international stage but that did not mean everyone needed one.


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