Education and an evidence-based approach

With the launch of the Green Party manifesto, one item got considerable media coverage: “Exploring the phasing out of homework in primary schools”. Although the party manifesto does not commit to banishing homework, simply asking for an exploration of the idea, it got a lot of attention. The evidence for and against homework in educational research is mixed: the best summary from the research I’ve read seems to say that although there is a correlation between whether homework is completed and educational outcomes, this correlation is quite weak for primary school age children, especially in younger classes. A primary school in Rathfarnham which trialled a ‘no homework’ programme for all classes except sixth has received positive feedback.

There is evidence from other countries too: Finland is renowned as having one of the best primary education systems in the world, yet according to the OECD, students in Finland have the least amount of outside work and homework than any other student in the world.

The important issue is not necessarily about whether we should do away with homework, but the need to follow evidence-based policy in all areas of government. The Citizens Assembly model has worked successfully in Ireland for policy areas which needs a consideration of a wide range of research perspectives. The Green Party has proposed a Citizens Assembly for education to re-evaluate the outcomes of education and the necessity for structural changes at all levels in our education system.

While there are some longer-term changes that are needed to our education system, there are also actions that we can take relatively quickly: reducing pupil-to-teacher ratios at first and second level with a particular focus on DEIS schools, funding third level and further education, funding Special Needs Assistants, and ensuring that students’ ethnicity and religion (or non-religion) are not barriers to their enrolment and participation in school, to name but a few.