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Article of Interest - Education (UK)

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Bridges4Kids LogoThe Head Who Banned Homework
Amelia Hill asks the teacher who outraged the educational world just why he has become the bane of traditionalists.
by Amelia Hill, The Observer, January 23, 2005
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Spiritualists believe the village of Marlborough, in Wiltshire, lies at the heart of the modern-day crop circle phenomenon. Last week, however, a local headmaster achieved something even more mystical: he made homework disappear.

 
Had Dr Patrick Hazlewood produced proof that little green men really do come to Swindon to make pretty rings in the landscape, he would have provoked less outrage. After what he had considered to be a perfectly amicable parents' evening during which he explained why he was scrapping traditional homework for Year Seven pupils, the world came crashing through his gates, accusing him of wrecking education and wasting taxpayers' money.

'Let me explain,' says Hazlewood, who has been headmaster of St John's School and Community College, a 1,550-pupil comprehensive for 11- to 16-year-olds for the past nine years.

His day has been exhausting: the story hit the front pages of the British newspapers on Friday morning and ricocheted across the world. He has spent the day firefighting calls from confused parents, vociferous strangers - both supportive and outraged - and an overheated media, all the while attempting to teach his timetabled lessons and complete his usual duties.

Despite the furore, Hazlewood bounces into his office, gesturing towards a scattering of low-slung seats. He pauses at the sight of his own chair, almost hidden behind a desk piled high with paper, then throws himself into an easy chair at the foot of the desk instead, oblivious to the piles of reports and docu ments teetering dangerously above his head.

'Traditional homework is boring, irrelevant and all too often the source of family conflict,' he says, crossing his legs at the ankles and propelling himself forward by jutting out his knees in opposite directions like a camping stool. 'I have spent the last four years re-engineering our school's curriculum for the 21st century and one thing I have become very much aware of is that homework is a 20th-century concept whose time has long gone.

'Pupils should not be sponging ideas off their teachers: they should be taught to have their own ideas'.

St John's has been at the forefront of radical educational change since becoming one of the first schools to test a futuristic project by the Royal Society for the Arts that holds the point of school is not to acquire subject knowledge but to encourage pupils to 'love learning for its own sake'.

The no-homework plan is Hazlewood's latest step in this project, seeing his Year Seven pupils (11- and 12-year-olds) encouraged to think around long-term projects at home instead of being asked to complete set tasks.

As he talks, Hazlewood creates his own crop circle shapes in the air: a ring drawn with both hands represents his school's ethos; fluttering fingers sweeping up diagonally from his heart to his head represents progress. Only 'homework' seems to have no accompanying gesture: the mere mention of the issue sends his hands flopping down on to his knees. 'In a traditional classroom, you might get the correct answer but you never get the deep and critical thinking that is the hallmark of a proper education,' he says.

Before he burst over Wiltshire's education horizon, Hazlewood spent five years bringing Redruth school in Cornwall out of Ofsted-imposed special measures. 'This time, I wanted to see if I could turn a very good school into an excellent one,' he explains.

He appears to have achieved his aim: despite competing with the highly-respected Marlborough College, attended by Prince Andrew's younger daughter Eugenie, St John's has expanded to 1,550 pupils from 1,300 in the past five years and continues to be heavily oversubscribed.

Anxious parents notwithstanding, Hazlewood is undeterred: his ideal school is a flexible concept, where pupils divide their time between vir tual classrooms and brick schoolrooms, assessing their non-subject specific lessons themselves, instead of relying on exams.

Hazlewood admits his open-ended notion of homework is not perfect but insists the pilot will be launched on 11 February nevertheless. 'Children unable to motivate themselves will have problems,' he admits. 'But if we waited until the perfect moment, we would be waiting for ever. Let us launch this pilot, assess it after six months and then see where we are.'

In the meantime, Hazlewood will observe his scheme from the inside track: his son, Christopher, is in the class piloting the project. 'If you believe in the things you what to bring about, it's only right that your own children should be there to experience that,' he says.

    

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