Column: Let children in Sheffield have a real break from school and work this festive season

Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe
Picture Jonathan Gawthorpe

Most children at Sheffield schools will be going to the wire this week, working right up to Friday December 22.

It’s one of the latest Christmas finishes I can remember. Although the kids will get the standard two weeks over the Christmas holidays, it’s more heavily imbalanced than usual, with little time before the big day and plenty of time to relax in the New Year.

That can have a big impact on the end of term. Our children are tired. They have been pushed hard in a very long half term.

The run up to Christmas, of course, can have plenty of late nights as family activities kick in, Christmas shows are put on and excitement builds. Oh yes, the city’s children are tired and in desperate need of a rest.

What our junior and secondary school children don’t need over the next couple of weeks is homework.

Sadly, I have seen plenty of homework given out at a Sheffield secondary school in the weeks before Christmas. Some teachers who haven’t given a homework for a few weeks are wheeling out a Christmas challenge for the holidays and, if a few other teachers do the same, the children are ending up with a hefty pile of festive tasks.

While most kids won’t want to be bothered with doing the homework in the Christmas week, it means that the first week in January will have plenty of it.

Junior school pupils are not immune either. Worksheets have been sent home in several years, with the Year 6 SATs students taking a particular hit. There are plenty that will have past papers to complete over the holidays. Ho! Ho! Ho!

We need to be careful in what we are expecting our under 12s to do during the holiday periods.

They have worked very hard in the first term of school this year, and Year 6 students will have had homework given them week in, week out.

When we arrive at a holiday, it’s time to take our foot off the pedal and encourage some relaxation.

The clue is in the title – it’s a holiday. And the break at Christmas is especially important for many Sheffield children to spend time with their families and do what kids are supposed to do at Christmas – use the time to play with new toys without worrying about class work.

From primary school children being prepared for SATs right up to those taking their GCSE’s, the amount of stress in the classroom is on the increase.

Studies have shown that many primary school children are just as stressed as their older peers are about exams, and this is a particularly worrying trend.

Primary school children should be put at ease during their school experience. Putting them under undue stress is not going to achieve anything positive.

 The latest figures, released by Oxford Home Schooling, are very concerning for those of us involved in education. One alarming figure reveals how more than one in ten primary school children are spending at least five hours on homework every week – a staggering amount.

In addition to this, a third of primary school parents believe their kids are stressed about their exams. Two out of every five parents think there is too much pressure put on their children to perform academically.

As teachers, we have a direct impact on the welfare of our children. It can be easy to think that the kids are having two weeks off so they should be given an extended project to do at home.

But let’s show a little compassion here and remember that the evidence on whether homework actually helps children to make progress is fairly patchy.

Let’s allow the city’s children to put their feet up over the next couple of weeks, enjoy family parties, watch some cool TV and get involved with any new stuff they might get given on Christmas Day.

There’ll be plenty of time for working hard when the treadmill starts turning again in two weeks.

Here’s hoping everybody involved in education has a restful Christmas, returning for a productive 2018.