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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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
'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
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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