“I have noticed that the students enjoy attending classes. On the one hand they have the freedom to arrange their flexible hours as they wish and on the other hand they like the structure that working at school offers them.”
Not every parent can afford a tutor. At the HBM in Heemstede the students do their homework at school which, regardless of their socio-economic background, gives them an equal opportunity to obtain their diploma.
A New Direction
About a third of the students at the HBM received additional education outside school hours. Principal Mattie-Smits: “We have noticed that those students performed better than the students who did not have a tutor. In our opinion, obtaining a diploma should not depend on the income of your parents. That is why we have taken a new direction and decided to become a homework-free school.”
New lesson objectives
All the different subjects are focused on helping students complete their learning objectives, including intermediate objectives. History teacher Ilan van Veen: “During our mentor class  we help students to look ahead at the next two weeks and make a schedule with those objectives in mind. They can then sign up for flex hours based on that schedule. They can use those hours as silence hours, work hours or mentor hours.” Students can use silence hours to work on a subject of their choice. A work hour is for assignments, so they can work together with a classmate and ask the teacher questions. A mentor hour is for tutoring. Every teacher has sacrificed 20 minutes to create the room needed to make this schedule possible. I used to give two 50 minute lessons every week, but now I give one 80 minute lesson. You could say that I lost 20 minutes, but this new method has proven to be more efficient in practice. Preparing a 80 minute lesson requires a new approach from teachers. We now make the lessons more varied and more active. Any additional explanations now take place outside of class hours”, explains Ilan.
The homework-free school’s schedule
Period Content Time Class
1 Flex hour 08:30-09:10 Year 1-4 upon registration
2+3 Subject class 1 09:15-10:35 All
Break Break 10:35-10:50 All
4+5 Subject class 2 10:55-12:15 All
Break Break 12:15-12:40 All
6+7 Subject Class 3 12:45-14:05 All
Break Break 14:05-14:15 All
8 Flex hour 14:20-15:00 Year 1-4 upon registration
9 Flex hour 15:05-15:45 Year 1-4 upon registration
*Flex hours can be used as a silence hour, a work hour or a mentor hour.
Ilan adds that students also have to learn how to study. “By spending more time with your students, you can help students learn the best way to study. This is different for every student. As a teacher you are in a better position to see if they can handle the level and you have a better overview of their performance, because you were there when they were studying for that exam. You can steer them in the right direction on time. “For his subject history Ilan uses a study guide for each period. Students can use it to see when they have to hand in certain assignments. Ilan: “The study guides are shared with the mentors, who then help the students make a weekly schedule. By making more assignments students can work ahead and for the students lagging behind there are extra assignments they can practice with. That way we can offer students a more customized approach.”
Student Riven: “My grades have already gone up, I do my homework on time and I even work ahead of schedule.”
A good preparation
The team at HBM was able to make a smooth transition to this new system thanks to their excellent preparation. Mattie: “The teachers were prepared to give this model a chance, but they were aware that it would demand a new lesson approach, one with more variation. Six months before becoming a homework-free school, the teachers received additional training on how to make lessons more active and varied. For the implementation of the homework-free approach we created a work group. Colleagues were able to sign up for this work group. We organised soundboard sessions to inform the other teachers and to exchange thoughts. That helped to make it a team thing.”
Parents and students are thrilled
We also organised soundboard sessions with parents and students. They received comprehensive information and were given the opportunity to contribute their ideas. Their reactions were positive. The students are at school from 8:30 to no later than 15:45. Sometimes students can leave an hour early as a reward for performing well. When they get home, they do not have to do any homework. Ilan: “Above all, I have noticed that students enjoy attending classes. On the one hand they have the freedom to arrange their flexible hours as they wish and on the other hand they like the structure that working at school offers them.” Many children also have obligations at home, like picking up brothers and sisters from school or they play sports at a high level. It is very convenient for them to be able to do their homework at school.”
Student Luna: “I have to stay at school a little longer, but then I do not have to do any homework at home.”
Want to get started with this system?
Mattie recommends schools to learn from other schools to find inspiration. Ilan adds: “It is important to be convinced that it will work. You really have to be willing and able to provide more varied lessons. If you invest time in that, your lessons will become more valuable. I have noticed that the students are responding positively to this new system. We have also noticed that students with questions about lessons are glad with the opportunity to ask for extra attention outside of their regular classes. Every students knows almost every teacher by name and vice versa. We pay attention to the students and that attention allows the students to grow.”
 In the Netherlands students have a mentor who offers guidance with things that are not directly related to a subject, but with their general wellbeing at school. Everyone in a certain class usually has the same mentor, who they see at fixed times every week during the so-called mentor class. Students can go to the mentor with issues that are going on in their class, at school or with that particular student. Mentor classes are intended to improve the wellbeing of students and the relationship with students.