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The Great British Homework Debate 2023 – Is It Necessary At Primary School?
The homework debate is never much out of the news. Should homework be banned? Is homework at primary school a waste of time? Do our children get too much homework?
Not long ago, UK-based US comedian Rob Delaney set the world alight with a tweet giving his own personal view of homework at primary school. We thought, as an organisation that provides maths homework support on a weekly basis, it was time to look at the facts around the homework debate in primary schools as well as, of course, reflecting the views of celebrities and those perhaps more qualified to offer an opinion!
This article is part of our series designed for teachers to inform their mathematical subject knowledge, and for parents to help support children with home learning . More free home learning resources are also available.
Here’s how Rob Delaney kicked things off
Gary Lineker leant his support with the following soundbite:
And even Piers Morgan weighed in, with his usual balance of tact and sensitivity:
A very experienced and knowledgeable Headteacher, Simon Smith, who has a well-earned following on Twitter (for someone working in education, not hosting Match of the Day) also put his neck on the line and, some might think controversially, agreed with the golden-heeled Crisp King of Leicester…
Fortunately Katharine Birbalsingh, Conservative Party Conference keynote speaker and Founding Headteacher of the Michaela School, was on hand to provide the alternative view on the importance of homework. Her op-ed piece in the Sun gave plenty of reasons why homework should not be banned.
She was informative and firm in her article stating: “Homework is essential for a child’s education because revisiting the day’s learning is what helps to make it stick.”
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How much homework do UK primary school children get?
Sadly, there’s little data comparing how much homework primary school-aged children in the UK and across the globe complete on a weekly basis. A study of teenagers used by The Telegraph shows that American high-schoolers spend an average of 6.1 hours per week compared with 4.9 hours per week of homework each week for UK-based teens.
Up until 2012, the Department of Education recommended an hour of homework a week for primary school Key Stage 1 children (aged 4 to 7) and half an hour a day for primary school Key Stage 2 children (aged 7-11). Many primary schools still use this as a guideline.
Teachers, parents and children in many schools across the land have seen more changes of homework policy than numbers of terms in some school years.
A ‘no-homework’ policy pleases only a few; a grid of creative tasks crowd-sourced from the three teachers bothered to give their input infuriates many (parents, teachers and children alike). For some parents, no matter how much homework is set, it’s never enough; for others, even asking them to fill in their child’s reading record once a week can be a struggle due to a busy working life.
Homework is very different around the world
We’d suggest that Piers Morgan’s argument for homework in comparing the UK’s economic and social progress with China’s in recent years based on total weekly homework hours is somewhat misguided – we can’t put their emergence as the world’s (if not already, soon to be) leading superpower exclusively down to having their young people endure almost triple the number of hours spent completing homework as their Western counterparts.
Nonetheless, there’s certainly a finer balance to strike between the 14 hours a week suffered by Shanghainese school-attendees and none whatsoever. Certainly parents in the UK spend less time each week helping their children than parents in emerging economies such as India, Vietnam and Colombia (Source: Varkey Foundation Report).
Disadvantages of homework at primary school
Delaney, whose son attends a London state primary school, has made it plain that he thinks his kids get given too much homework and he’d rather have them following more active or creative pursuits: drawing or playing football. A father of four sons and a retired professional footballer Gary Linaker was quick to defend this but he also has the resources to send his children to top boarding schools which generally provide very structured homework or ‘prep’ routines.
As parents Rob and Gary are not alone. According to the 2018 Ofsted annual report on Parents Views more than a third of parents do not think homework in primary school is helpful to their children. They cite the battles and arguments it causes not to mention the specific challenges it presents to families with SEND children many of whom report serious damage to health and self-esteem as a result of too much or inappropriate homework.
It’s a truism among teachers that some types of homework tells you very little about what the child can achieve and much more about a parent’s own approach to the work. How low does your heart sink when your child comes back with a D & T project to create Stonehenge and you realise it’s either an all-nighter with glue, cardboard and crayons for you, or an uncompleted homework project for your child!
Speaking with our teacher hats on, we can tell you that homework is often cited in academic studies looking at academic progress in primary school-aged children as showing minimal to no impact.
Back on Twitter, a fellow teacher was able to weigh-in with that point:
Benefits of homework at primary school
So what are the benefits of homework at primary school? According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (the key research organisations dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement) the impact of homework at primary is low, but it also doesn’t cost much.
They put it at a “+2 months” impact against a control of doing nothing. To put this into context, 1-to-1 tuition is generally seen as a +5 months impact but it’s usually considered to be expensive.
“There is some evidence that when homework is used as a short and focused intervention it can be effective in improving students’ attainment … overall the general benefits are likely to be modest if homework is more routinely set.”
Key to the benefit you’ll see from homework is that the task is appropriate and of good quality. The quantity of homework a pupil does is not so important. In this matter Katharine Birbalsingh is on the money. Short focused tasks which relate directly to what is being taught, and which are built upon in school, are likely to be more effective than regular daily homework.
In our view it’s about consolidation. So focusing on a few times tables that you find tricky or working through questions similar to what you’ve done in class that day or week often can be beneficial. 2 hours of worksheets on a Saturday when your child could be outside having fun and making friends probably isn’t. If you really want them to be doing maths, then do some outdoor maths with them instead of homework !
At Third Space Learning we believe it’s all about balance. Give the right sort of homework and the right amount at primary school and there will be improvements, but much of it comes down to parental engagement.
One of our favourite ways to practise maths at home without it become too onerous is by using educational games. Here are our favourite fun maths games , some brilliant KS2 maths games , KS1 maths games and KS3 maths games for all maths topics and then a set of 35 times tables games which are ideal for interspersing with your regular times tables practice. And best of all, most of them require no more equipment than a pen and paper or perhaps a pack of cards.
Homework and parents
One of the key benefits cited by EEF is in regard to parental engagement. Time after time, the greatest differentiator between children who make great progress at school – and those, frankly – who don’t is due to the same factor in the same studies: parental engagement .
It is a fair assumption that if a parent is engaged in their child’s learning, they’re probably going to be the same parents who encourage and support their child when they’re completing their homework.
Whereas parents who are disengaged with their child’s school and schooling – for whatever reason (sorry, Piers, it’s rarely due to laziness), are highly unlikely to be aware of what homework gets set each week, let alone to be mucking in with making sure it gets handed in completed and on time.
We also encounter time and again, the issue of parents’ own lack of confidence in maths. A survey by Pearson found that:
- 30 percent of parents “don’t feel confident enough in their own maths skills to help their children with their primary school maths homework”
- 53 per cent insisted they struggled to understand the new maths teaching methods used in modern classrooms. Fortunately that’s what we’re here to address.
Setting the right homework at primary school can be tricky
Although we disagree with Piers, we can see what he may be driving at in terms of setting appropriate homework.
The question quickly becomes what would Piers think of as being ‘interesting’ homework, and if all four of his children would agree upon the same thing being ‘interesting’.
That’s the problem.
One would imagine Piers would find it hard enough finding one task to satisfy the interest of all of his four children – it’s almost impossible to find a task that will engage the interest of 30 or more children in their out of school hours.
Each with different emotional, behavioural and learning needs, then sprinkle in the varying levels of poverty each family suffers (be it financial or in terms of time), and you can see how it isn’t just about being a good or bad teacher – whatever that means – in regards to being able to set Morgan-approved homework tasks.
What does this mean for my child?
Ultimately, the question at the top of mind whenever a parent thinks about homework is a more general one – am I doing the best for my child?
Although the world is changing at a faster pace than ever before in human history, what’s best for children hasn’t changed that much (if at all).
One-to-one support is best, and young people benefit most from adult-child conversations where they acquire new vocabulary and language structures to form and share their thoughts and opinions.
These insights – that one-to-one support is best and that regular, structured adult-child conversations are life-changing within a child’s development – are what inspired us to create Third Space Learning.
A platform where children can engage with a community of specialist tutors in a safe, structured learning environment where they are able to engage in one-to-one conversations that enable them to progress in their learning with confidence.
- How to help your child with their maths homework – A parents guide
- The Best Homework Hacks: 18 Tips And Tricks To Help Busy Parents Get It Done Faster!
Online 1-to-1 maths lessons trusted by schools and teachers Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of primary school children with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions . Since 2013 we’ve helped over 130,000 children become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote to speak to us about your needs and how we can help.
FREE KS2 maths SATs practice papers
Get ready for SATs with this set of 6 maths SATs practice papers designed to help your Year 6 pupils improve test skills and build confidence.
Includes: - 2 arithmetic and 4 reasoning papers that follow the National Curriculum Assessments. - Mark schemes to diagnose and assess where your pupils need extra support.
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NEWS • 13 May 2022
Primary school children get little academic benefit from homework
Paul Hopkins , Lecturer and Researcher in Education, on the usefulness of homework for primary school pupils.
Homework: a word that can cause despair not just in children, but also in parents and even teachers. And for primary school children at least, it may be that schools setting homework is more trouble than it’s worth.
There is evidence that homework can be useful at secondary school. It can be used to consolidate material learnt in class or to prepare for exams.
However, it is less clear that homework is useful for children at primary school (ages 5 to 11) or in early years education (ages 3 to 5).
What is homework for?
There are no current guidelines on how much homework primary school children in England should be set. In 2018 then education secretary Damien Hinds stated that “We trust individual school head teachers to decide what their policy on homework will be, and what happens if pupils don’t do what’s set”.
While there is not much data available on how much homework primary school pupils do, a 2018 survey of around 1,000 parents found that primary pupils were spending an average of 2.2 hours per week on homework.
The homework done by primary school children can include reading, practising spellings, or revising for tests. Charity the Education Endowment Foundation suggests that the uses for homework at primary school include reinforcing the skills that pupils learn in school, helping them get ready for tests and preparing them for future school lessons.
Homework can also act as a point of communication between home and school, helping parents feel part of their child’s schooling.
However, the 2018 Ofsted Parents’ Panel – which surveyed the views of around 1,000 parents in England on educational issues – found that 36% of parents thought that homework was not helpful at all to their primary school children. The panel report found that, for many parents, homework was a significant source of stress and negatively affected family life.
Little academic benefit
Not much academic research has been carried out on the impact of homework for children in primary school. The available meta-studies – research that combines and analyses the findings of a number of studies – suggest that homework has little or no positive benefit for the academic achievement of children of primary school age. A central reason for this seems to be the inability of children to complete this homework without the support provided by teachers and the school.
Some research has suggested that primary pupils lack the independent study skills to do homework, and that they are not able to stay focused on the work.
What’s more, homework may actually have a negative effect if parents set unrealistic expectations, apply pressure or use methods that go counter to those used at school.
Homework may also increase inequalities between pupils. High achievers from economically privileged backgrounds may have greater parental support for homework, including more educated assistance, higher expectations and better settings and resources.
However, it is possible that setting homework for primary school children has benefits that cannot be easily measured, such as developing responsibility and independent problem-solving skills. It could also help children develop habits that will be useful in later school life.
A common task set for homework in primary schools is for children to read with their parents. There is some evidence that this has a positive impact as well as providing enjoyment, but the quality of interaction may be more important than the quantity.
If the purpose of homework is to develop the relationship between home and school and give parents more stake in the schooling of their children then this may well be a positive thing. If this is its purpose, though, it should not be used as a means to improve test scores or school performance metrics. For the youngest children, anything that takes time away from developmental play is a bad thing.
Rather, any homework should develop confidence and engagement in the process of schooling for both children and parents.
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The beginner's guide to primary-school homework
What’s the point of homework?
For many families, homework is a nightly battle, but primary schools set it for a variety of reasons. ‘It helps to consolidate the skills that are being taught at school, and provides children with additional revision opportunities,’ explains head teacher Steph Matthews of St Paul’s CofE School, Gloucester .
‘It also gives children an opportunity to explore learning in an unstructured setting, encouraging them to be independent and follow their own lines of enquiry.’ In addition, homework creates a partnership between school and family, giving parents an insight into what their child is learning.
How much homework should my child get in primary school?
In the past, the Department for Education advised that Key Stage 1 children should do an hour of homework each week, rising to half an hour per night in Key Stage 2. This advice was scrapped in 2012, giving schools more freedom, but many still follow the old guidelines.
In Reception , formal homework is rarely set. However, children are likely to bring home books to share with the family, first reading books, and/or keywords to learn.
In Years 1 and 2 , children are likely to have one or two tasks per week. This could be literacy or numeracy worksheets (for example an exercise where children have to compare the weights of different household items), a short piece of writing (such as a recount of a school trip) or work relating to the class topic (find out five facts about the Great Fire of London ).
In Years 3 and 4 , most schools set two homework activities each week: typically, one literacy (such as a worksheet on collective nouns, or a book review ) and one numeracy (a worksheet on bar charts).
In Years 5 and 6 , children may have two or three pieces of homework each week. ‘The amount begins to increase to prepare children for SATs and the transition to secondary school,’ says Steph. These activities might include maths worksheets, researching a topic, book reviews and grammar exercises.
Alongside formal homework tasks, most children bring home reading scheme books from Reception onwards, with weekly spellings and times tables from Year 1 or 2.
Learning logs and homework challenges
Not all schools rely on handing out worksheets. Learning logs or challenges are becoming more popular: children are given a folder of suggested activities – from writing a poem to building a model castle – and must choose a certain number to complete throughout the term.
Other schools ensure that homework ties in with the current class topic. ‘We have a themed approach, and set homework activities that give opportunities to explore the topic in a fun way, for example, designing a method of transport that Phileas Fogg could use to travel the world,’ explains Steph.
Modern homework methods
Unsurprisingly, technology is playing an increasingly important part in homework. Some schools use online reading schemes such as Bug Club , where teachers allocate e-books of the appropriate level, or subscription services like SAM Learning to set cross-curricular tasks.
A growing number also set homework electronically , with children logging into the school website to download their task.
What if the homework is too much – or too hard?
If you feel your child is overloaded with homework, speak to the teacher. ‘Forcing children to complete homework is counterproductive, because they come to perceive it as a chore,’ says Rod Grant, head teacher of Clifton Hall School, Edinburgh . ‘This makes learning appear boring, arduous or both, and that is really dangerous, in my view.’
Most schools publish their homework policy on the school website , telling parents exactly what to expect. ‘Teachers should make their expectations very clear in terms of deadlines and how long it should take, and should also differentiate tasks to suit the level of the pupil,’ adds Steph.
No homework at all?
If your child doesn’t get any homework, you may feel out of touch with his learning, or concerned that he isn’t being challenged. But there are good reasons why some schools don’t set homework, or set it only occasionally, says Rod. ‘Although homework can be beneficial, family life tends to suffer as a result of it being imposed,’ he explains. ‘ If a school isn’t providing homework, there’s plenty that parents can do at home instead : reading with their children, doing number puzzles on car journeys, using online resources, and so on.’
Parents may also worry that without doing homework, children won’t develop study habits for later life. ‘There is genuinely no need for a six-year-old to get into a routine of working at home; there’s time to learn that later,’ Rod advises. ‘Parents need to relax and encourage children to love learning – and that comes when learning is fun, relevant and engaging, not through doing homework tasks that are unchallenging, or secretarial in nature.’
Homework: advice and support for primary-school parents
For information and support on all aspects of homework, from managing other siblings to helping with specific subjects, head to our Homework area.
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What age should children be given homework?
When should children start homework and should they be doing it at all?
Homework can be an emotive subject. For some, that feeling of Sunday night dread (when you’d left it to the last possible moment) never properly leaves us. Still creeping up in waves of panic like an irrational fear, or returning to us in nightmares. For others, one too many excuses about peckish dogs brings back memories sparking guilt or regret. When our own children start school, the nightmares can quickly turn into nightly battles that often end with us picking up the pencil in order to get it done. Attention spans are short after a long day at school and homework takes time away from family life.
In this country homework commonly starts in reception, taking the form of reading. From Year 1 and into Year 2, children are usually expected to complete one to two tasks per week. But parents are questioning if this is too early and ultimately if homework is necessary at all.
It’s a hot topic at the moment due to a new framework that was introduced in the state system in September. Ofsted has said its inspectors will not assess how homework is being done because schools should decide whether or not they set it for their students. This marks a huge departure in the inspection regime, which previously looked at homework as part of the way it approached the teaching, learning, and assessment of children.
Independent schools are of course free to set their own policies about homework and the approach is varied. Queen’s Gate Junior School in South Kensington takes the view that homework can be of value, if it’s set in a constructive way. Mr James Denchfield, director of the school says: “It befalls good schools not only to teach well but also to nurture essential learning skills, such as independence, self-motivation and retention of information,” he continues “homework is at its most beneficial when it asks pupils not just to review what they have learnt but to understand why they have learnt it, as they make the leap from specific task to general rule. Well-conceived, purposeful tasks, which draw on pupils’ creativity and demand lateral thinking are the most satisfying to undertake and are the ones which leave the greatest impression in children’s minds.”
The King Alfred School in Golders Green, north-west London takes a more progressive stance. Head of Lower School, Karen Thomas says: “At The King Alfred School we’ve chosen not to set homework for our Lower School students in order to remove undue pressure for our children and their families. Using enquiry as our main pedagogical approach we create enough exciting opportunities in the school day to trigger their curiosity and open the door to learning both in and out of school. We like to keep parents fully informed as to what is happening in the classrooms in order to enable rich conversations at home. Our oldest students have home learning projects in order to prepare them for their transition to the Upper School which is something they themselves requested.”
Ofsted’s 2018 report stated that homework is a “huge stress” for families in the UK. Of the parents they collected feedback from, a third felt that it is not helpful for primary school-age children – an opinion that was at the centre of a high profile Twitter debate at the end of 2018.
The fray in question started when comedian Rob Delaney wrote: “Why do they give seven-year-olds so much homework in the UK and how do I stop this?” Football presenter Gary Lineker typed back, agreeing that children “should be allowed to play and enjoy home life with their -parents without the divisiveness of work they have plenty of time to do at school.” However, Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan weighed in with the opposite opinion. He wrote: “As a nation, we’re falling so far behind educational standards of countries like China, it’s embarrassing.”
The consensus around the world is indeed varied. In Finland, a country that consistently tops global education rankings, children start school at age seven and the homework they receive is minimal, and in some schools, they don’t get any at all. In the New York private system (a city famed for being enslaved to the rat race) homework also starts much later. Most schools begin with play-based learning, only bringing homework into the equation at third or fourth grade.
But this is not the case in other high-pressured societies. Having previously taught in London, Sophie Helsby is a Grade 1 teacher in an independent school on the outskirts of Tokyo. She feels that the parents in Japan put too much focus on their child’s future success. She says: “In the school I work in, we have to set homework weekly. The parents actually want it and they always ask for more,” she continues, “we do enough at school to support their learning and we want kids to come to school energised and well-rested. I always tell parents that their children need time at home to relax and play, but they don’t really understand that here.”
Academic results are of course a huge factor for parents when they are looking for a school that will be best suited for their child. But thought about whether homework contributes to higher success rates for younger children tends to vary. A 2001 meta-study by the National Foundation for Educational Research concluded that there was “a positive relationship between time spent and outcomes at secondary level” but “evidence at primary level is inconsistent”.
Conor Heaven, a former teacher and Digital Learning Leader at TT Education argues that while homework can have “zero impact”, there’s a difference between homework and home learning. He says: “even from the youngest ages, the one most important thing that should happen every week without fail is reading,” he continues “there are primary schools that have got rid of homework completely. They have seen that they don’t gain any value from it, but reading absolutely would still carry on in this scenario.”
Like or loathe the idea of homework, one thing for sure is the importance of books for young learners. Not only does it help with language acquisition and literacy skills, but it expands children’s imaginations and their understanding of the world. And bedtime stories may just be the antidote to those nightmares about hungry dogs.
Further reading: How parents can support their child’s education
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Year 2 - can school say homework is compulsory.
Redcliff · 14/03/2014 17:15
I mentioned to one of the other mums at school today that I heard our sons teacher had been keeping children in a break time to finish homework if it hadn't been done and she went a bit crazy - turns out that she never does homework with her kids and when she asked her son today (after I opened my big mouth) he said that he had been kept in for the last two weeks for at least one break time. She told him they couldn't do this - is this right?
Littlefish · 14/03/2014 17:26
No, she's not right. Each school sets its own homework policy, in the same way that it sets its own behaviour policy. Whilst I don't think it's great to keep children in at playtime, and certainly not something I would do, if the school says that homework is compulsory, then it can also set sanctions if the homework is not completed.
tiggytape · 14/03/2014 18:52
This reply has been deleted
Message withdrawn at poster's request.
Glasshammer · 14/03/2014 19:52
I would be very unhappy if my DS and I had decided not to do homework and the school forced the issue. He's only 7, so very young. I would ha e strong words with the teacher and highlight your decision and request they respect it
Redcliff · 14/03/2014 21:16
See where your coming from glass but I guess it makes sense for the school to set rules. When she told her son that they weren't allowed to keep him in I did interject with "maybe you (mum) could talk to the teacher - her son is a real sweetie and I couldn't bear the thought of him getting into trouble. I think she feels she hasn't got time or the desire to do the homework.
Littlefish · 14/03/2014 22:15
You're absolutely right that the mum should speak to the teacher rather than support and encourage her child to flout the school rules.
AICM · 14/03/2014 22:26
There is no law that says children must be set homework. However there are government recommendations. The issue here is very, very simple. Each school will have a homework policy, children must do homework in line with the policy or take the consequences in line with the policy. Parents are completely free to look for a school with a homework policy of their liking or to home-educate. As a teacher a would make a stand enforcing this out of fairness to the whole class.
tiptabletops · 14/03/2014 22:35
"Parents are completely free to look for a school with a homework policy of their liking" as free as 0.2 catchment areas allow.
tiggytape · 14/03/2014 23:04
Heifer · 14/03/2014 23:13
I would have expected the teacher to have spoken to the parent if the boy had missed so much homework rather than just keeping him in at play/lunchtime. My DD school has been set homework Mon-Thur (due back the next day) since yr 2, it's something that you just get used to and get on with it.. Think it was just 10 mins a day in yr 2, working up to 30 mins now in Yr 5 + reading & spellings on top. If a child doesn't finish their homework without good reason (usually because they forgot to take it home with them) then the teacher does keep them in (yr 5) but I've asked if DD could be allowed to do the occasional piece at the weekend if she's had a sports match after school followed by a club, and was told that was fine so there is some flexibility. Personally I'm all for homework if it helps my DD progress. She doesn't seem to mind as it's something she is used to and am hoping that the transition into secondary school will be easier.
Glasshammer · 14/03/2014 23:28
Thankfully my sons school listens to parents and is able to differentiate in regards to completing homework. The kids are generally v bright and the homework doesn't achieve much really.
steppemum · 14/03/2014 23:29
actually tiggy, I thought that at primary they couldn't enforce uniform?
PanelChair · 14/03/2014 23:36
It is often said on MN that school uniform can't be enforced at primary school, but that simply isn't true. As Tiggytape says, primary schools can adopt a uniform policy and can enforce it. The difference is in the range of sanctions open to them; unlike secondary schools, they cannot exclude pupils for not wearing uniform (although I gave seen differing opinions even on this point).
tiggytape · 14/03/2014 23:56
prh47bridge · 15/03/2014 00:23
I'm not going to quote the relevant law again but the basics are that a school can make pretty much any rules it wants within reason to in order to regulate the behaviour of pupils (which includes wearing uniform, doing homework, etc.) and can enforce those rules provided it has a clear policy and follows it. Regarding exclusions for uniform in primary schools, it used to be the case that DfE guidance said a pupil should only be excluded for regularly and defiantly breaching uniform rules. That was unlikely at primary school. The latest guidance simply says that any exclusion must be in line with legal requirements. My take is that this theoretically means a primary school pupil could be excluded for breaches of uniform regulations, but personally I think that would be inappropriate.
ComeIntoTheGardenMaud · 15/03/2014 00:26
Thank you, prh47bridge. That is what I was grasping for.
wannabestressfree · 15/03/2014 00:32
At the school I teach at the deputy head calls the parent and reminds them of thd contract they signed eg uniform, homework detentions. He also reminds them if they don't like it they can move them elsewhere....
AbbyR1973 · 15/03/2014 08:48
Actually I think the Mum is in the wrong here. If she has a fundamental disagreement with homework in principle she should be discussing her views directly with the school not be leaving it to her son. Lack of time is a bit pathetic. I'm a single parent that works fulltime in a professional occupation including on-call hours nights and weekend. I am still able to find time to hear DS's read at least 5 times a week, supervise violin practise, read bedtime stories to each DS AND supervise homework at weekends. Unless the amount of homework set is excessive then most people have plenty of time. DS in year 1 has maths, literacy and spellings given out on Friday to be handed in by Thursday. Literacy is usually a comprehension sheet, maths a worksheet related to class work. The maths sheet usually takes him less than 5 mins to complete, the comprehension sheet maybe 10 mins max.
tiptabletops · 15/03/2014 08:50
Can I ask if schools can also ban packed lunches? This has happened at our school this term, because the school wants a bigger take up of school dinners which are cooked on site (makes it more economical for the school, but also nominally in support of 'healthy eating', although the school dinners are far less healthy than the food my son used to eat in his lunch box).
Littlefish · 15/03/2014 09:42
Tiptabletops - yes, I think they can.
Redcliff · 15/03/2014 18:57
Thanks for all the feedback - I thought that would be the case. I don't know why the teacher hasn't spoken to the mum - there are some very challenging children in the class (1 spat in my sons hair last week) and as the "non-homework" boy is fairly well behaved maybe it just slipped under the rader.
Bilberry · 16/03/2014 17:06
In Scotland you actually can't enforce school uniform (at least at primary level). This came up in Parent Council as part of an extensive discussion about length of skirts....
morethanpotatoprints · 16/03/2014 17:13
No, they can't make it compulsory, nor can they punish your child for not doing it, unless you signed the home/school agreement. We had this at my ds schools and it took several stern letters and threat of further action before they stopped suggesting they did detention. I even went into school to take them out of one once. Fair enough, if you agree that is fine, if you sign consent its fine.
wannabestressfree · 16/03/2014 17:22
I just don't understand why you wouldn't work alongside your child's school and actually go in and remove them..... What message does that send?
morethanpotatoprints · 16/03/2014 17:26
wannabe It says stand by your convictions and don't be a sheep for the sake of following others. There is no benefit to homework at this age, they were at school all day and my opinion is they had enough time to teach.
tiggytape · 16/03/2014 17:27
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Seven principles of setting effective primary homework
What is the secret to effective homework at primary level? Drawing upon the research, author of a new book on the topic Andrew Jones offers seven key principles for setting good homework
In September 2019, the hugely successful television presenter Simon Cowell stated: “I didn’t have that major stress about homework, because I would just throw it away.”
Similarly, in 2018, Match of the Day presenter Gary Lineker tweeted that, “Homework is a waste of time.” In the same thread comedian Jason Munford complained: “I spent three hours on a Sunday with my lot doing homework, cutting s**t out of magazines and researching animal teeth!”
Tellingly, Lineker’s tweet got more than 21,000 “likes”, but are these celebrity polymaths right in their assumptive hammering of homework?
Cognitive development and independent learning
An easy answer to the above is yes. Various studies suggest that the impact of homework at primary level is negligible whereas it is moderately effective at secondary level (Cooper 1989; Hattie 2009).
It is clear from the research that the main reasons for this are first and foremost about cognitive development and the ability to complete work independently.
For instance, Cooper and Valentine (2001) and Hallam and Rogers (2018), suggest primary pupils find it harder to stay focused and are easily distracted, do not have the independent study skills or habits that older pupils do, do not always have the prior knowledge needed to complete homework tasks, and are harder for parents to control in terms of completing homework.
However, these researchers go on to suggest that the tasks set by primary teachers involve basic skills in literacy and numeracy as well as the development of other key skills, which are harder to measure in terms of attainment in younger year groups. This means that the link between homework and attainment is arguably a misleading one and that the idea of setting homework at primary is not totally redundant.
The academic-cum-homework guru Harris Cooper still recommends setting primary pupils homework because – in later schooling – a lot of learning needs to take place beyond the classroom, which means pupils must develop good homework study habits and routines (1989; 2007).
Moreover, Cooper, Robinson and Patall (2006) also identified a number of studies at grades 2, 3, and 4 in the US (years 3, 4 and 5 in the UK) demonstrating that homework can have a positive effect on learning and attainment.
Subsequently, Cooper argues that setting manageable homework tasks in lower years encourages positive attitudes, habits and character traits as well as reinforcing the practice of basic skills taught in class.
Therefore, a more accurate answer to the concerns recounted above would be somewhat nuanced – perhaps advocating the setting of evidence-informed homework tasks that all pupils can perform easily at home.
So, what does best practice look like?
If homework is to benefit primary pupils, it is worth bearing the in mind the following:
Focus on the practice of literacy and numeracy skills : This might seem obvious, but younger pupils need to master the key skills needed in later years. Plenty of research suggests rehearsal and retrieval of skills and knowledge benefit learning and, importantly, attainment (Rosenshine, 2012). This is also evident in studies of homework, particularly at primary level (Cooper, 2007).
Set short and focused chunk-sized tasks: Overall evidence suggests setting short focused tasks, which relate directly to what has already been taught in class. Importantly, various studies find that pupils learn more when allowed to practise fewer skills or concepts (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001); this is also suggested in the reviews of primary homework by the Educational Endowment Fund (EEF, 2014). Therefore, homework should be set in small chunks in terms of content – or be focused on particular skills – in order to be properly understood by younger pupils.
Limit how much is set: In the US, the National Education Association and the Parent Teacher Association recommend the “10-minute rule”, which suggests that children should be given no more then 10 minutes of homework per-night, per-grade level (Blazer, 2009). So, a year 4 pupil in the UK should have no more than 30 minutes (as we are a year ahead in terms of schooling) and a year 6 pupil should have no more than 50 minutes. This latter amount of time might sound excessive, but it would count spellings, times tables and, importantly, reading.
Back in the early 1980s, the Department for Education and Employment as it was then used to suggest 30 minutes a day (up to two hours 30 minutes per week) for year 5 and 6 pupils. Of course, these timings are suggested and would not be ideal for all pupils or contexts. What is important, though, is that time spent on homework does not exceed these limits – otherwise the impact becomes negligible.
Space and interleave previously taught content: If feasible, homework activities can follow a spaced rotation where one short task is set on the current topic and another set on a previous topic. My son’s year 6 teacher, for example, regularly repeats at spaced intervals previous key spellings as well as mathematical methods. We have also found, in previous years, that interleaving (mixing up) times tables – once learned – improved recall (see Jones, 2020).
Informing parents of homework: Epstein and Van Voorhis (2001) suggest that effective communication of the purpose and content of homework can allow parents to understand what is being taught in class and facilitate parent–child conversations, which may reinforce the importance of school work. All of this – ideally – needs to be underpinned by a crystal-clear homework policy that is regularly shared with parents.
Supporting parents with homework: Cooper and Valentine (2001) found that pupils’ attitudes to homework were largely unrelated to ability, community and classroom norms, but impacted by parental attitudes to homework. This suggests that parents have an important function in facilitating learning at home. Furthermore, the academics found that parents improving the home learning environment, especially eliminating distractions, had an impact on pupils’ attainment in school. Cooper (2007) also points out that sessions supporting parents with teaching these basic skills can also improve homework completion.
Be wary of setting compulsory project-based learning as homework : Although these longer term tasks can be enriching, some pupils may be able to visit libraries, museums, etc whereas others may not. Judging pupils on these projects is arguably unfair. Moreover, while enriching, they do not effectively embed key skills or knowledge, especially if they are standalone projects. Also, creative tasks often involve resources, which could adversely impact pupils from a more disadvantaged background. Yes, these homework tasks can be beneficial and rewarding, but they do have clear limitations. These activities should not, therefore, be set in place of those advocated above.
Despite research clearly suggesting that the impact of homework on learning and attainment is more evident at secondary level, it does not rule out the potential benefits of well set and manageable homework tasks at primary level. Essentially, small bite-sized homework tasks can embed the knowledge and skills already taught in class. This means parents do not necessarily need to spend “three hours on a Sunday ... cutting s**t out of magazines and researching animal teeth!”. However, I can think of worst things children could be doing.
- Andrew Jones is assistant headteacher at The Reach Free School in Hertfordshire. He is the author of Homework With Impact: Why what you set and how you set it matters (Routledge, 2021). Visit https://bit.ly/3C6cvk5
Further information & resources
- The Homework Project: For full details of the academic references in this article and for further information on the homework project itself, visit https://homeworkresearchproject.wordpress.com/
- Blazer: Literature r eview : Homework , Research Services , Office of Assessment, Research and Data Analysis , Miami-Dade County Public Schools , January 2009: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED536245.pdf
- Cooper : The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents , Corwin Press , November 2007: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-22225-000
- Cooper: Synthesis of r esearch on h omework , Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development , November 1989: https://bit.ly/3v0fCaQ
- Cooper, Robinson and Patall : Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research 1987-2003, Review of Educational Research (76, 1), Spring 2006 : www.jstor.org/stable/3700582
- Cooper and Valentine : Using research to answer practical questions about homework. Educational Psychologist ( 36 , 3), September 2001 : https://bit.ly/3p5w1tV
- EEF: Teaching & Learning Toolkit Homework evidence summary: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/education-evidence/teaching-learning-toolkit/homework (see this 2014 summary for a breakdown of the primary homework evidence: https://bit.ly/3iPWdVj )
- Epstein and Van Voorhis : More t han m inutes: Teachers' r oles in d esigning h omework , Educational Psychologist, September 2001: https://bit.ly/2YFgzJL
- Hallam & Rogers: Homework : The evidence, UCL IOE Press, October 2018.
- Hattie: Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses on achievement, Professor John Hattie, 2009 (updated in 2011 and 2017). For details, see https://visible-learning.org/hattie-ranking-influences-effect-sizes-learning-achievement/
- Jones: Interleaving in Practice: insights and observations from a TSA research project, Mr Jones Whiteboard blog, April 2020: https://bit.ly/3C92C5k
- Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock : Classroom I nstruction T hat W orks: Research- b ased s trategies for i ncreasing s tudent a chievement , Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development , 2001 .
- Rosenshine: Principles of Instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know, American Educator, Spring 2012: http://bit.ly/2ZpbIqW
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