Leading Article: Some welcome revision from Mr Blunkett

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The Independent Culture
IN THEIR final guidelines on the teaching of primary school pupils, the Government has altered tack on homework. This can only be a good thing, since there was always a question mark over whether children as young as seven or eight could cope with 40 minutes of work per night, after coming home from school. Now the total for younger primary children has been pegged back to 20 minutes, the Government's policy seems much more realistic.

Homework is something of which everyone is in favour. There is no doubt that work in the evening can really boost children's performance in class. David Blunkett is rightly an apostle of learning at home. For years, schools' laissez-faire attitude to homework meant that more ambitious parents could secure an advantage for their offspring, buying up books and extra tuition so that their children could outstrip those from families who could not afford them. Many less advantaged children need the motivation of having their work looked at by their teachers, especially if the home environment is not conducive to study.

The homework clubs for which the Government has announced further Lottery funding - to the tune of pounds 220m - are also a very good idea. Some children like studying somewhere with their friends; a supportive atmosphere, with some different teaching, does not seem quite so much like work as sitting alone with a book. Learning in that engaging atmosphere may be a way of interesting children. Setting up societies appended to football clubs should make those centres even more attractive. Encouraging parents, especially fathers, to read to children is also a helpful break with past indifference to such issues.

The Government is not retreating from its principles. The hours of homework it has set for secondary pupils will remain the same, vital if GCSE and A-level work is to be properly considered and revised. But what the Government has realised is that there is no point overburdening very young children with too much work. It would be counterproductive to crush imaginations with written work and reading timetables, rather than allowing children and their parents to find their own way. British industry and society, as the Government has recently emphasised, has always been best in the creative and artistic fields. There should be no attempt to turn childhood into the "grey years" spent toiling in Japanese schools.

Too much work and too little imagination is the bane of our society. Our adult life is well on the way to US-style marriage to the job; it is at least questionable whether this has made Britain a more prosperous or happy place. There is no need to infect primary schools with this "work ethic". Mr Blunkett has recognised this, while still insisting on homework targets and standards, and pressing ahead with New Labour's more creative ideas. He should be praised for his willingness to listen.