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The Great British Homework Debate 2023 – Is It Necessary At Primary School?

Alexander athienitis.

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!

Here’s how Rob Delaney kicked things off

Rob Delaney's Homework Debate Tweet

Gary Lineker leant his support with the following soundbite:

Gary Lineker's Homework Debate Tweet

And even Piers Morgan weighed in, with his usual balance of tact and sensitivity:

Piers Morgan had more to say on the homework debate

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…

Simon Smith (Headteacher)'s Tweet On The Homework Debate

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.”

Katharine Birbalsingh, Headteacher, Michaela Community School waded in on the homework debate too.

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A FREE downloadable games and activity pack, including 20 home learning maths activities for KS2 children to complete on their own or with a partner.

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!

This tweet on the homework debate showed off the fun side of primary homework

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:

Ed Finch tweeted on the homework debate

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.

Piers Morgan had strong opinions on the homework debate

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.

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  • 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!
  • The 20 Most Recommended Teaching Blogs for UK Teachers and School Leaders

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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

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.

homework uk schools

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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Education Secretary: I trust head teachers to decide their homework policies

homework uk schools

Education Secretary Damian Hinds has today written an op-ed for the Sunday Times setting out his position on homework, which has been followed up with a news story . He says that ultimately up to heads and school leaders to decide whether to set homework and what the consequences should be if children do not complete their homework set.

The Education Secretary said:

One of the tougher things I’ve taken on recently was solving a ‘part-whole model’, involving nine ducks and a jagged shoreline. This was, I should clarify, a piece of homework for one of my children, not something called for in my day job. Homework is a staple of school life, and of home life. Parents know this. After all, almost every one of us will have done homework ourselves as a child and most of us will be drafted in to help with it at some point as a parent, carer or grandparent. There has been some high-profile interest of late on social media suggesting that homework is bad for children, at least in the first half of schooling. There have even been subsequent questions about its legal status. Just to be clear: schools are not obliged to set homework, and some don’t. But when schools do set homework, children do need to do it. 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. Policy and approach won’t be the same in all cases. Autonomy for schools, and the diversity that comes with it, is at the heart of this government’s approach to education. Of course, schools should, and do, communicate with parents. Parents need to know where they stand. Teachers obviously need to be realistic about expectations, and they know this. Obviously, no one wants children spending an inordinate amount of time every night doing homework. Clearly, there are other important things to do, too – like playing outside, family time, eating together. Good homework policies avoid excessive time requirements – focusing on quality rather than quantity and making sure that there is a clear purpose to any homework set. In 2011 we helped set up the Education Endowment Foundation as an independent expert body to study and advise on “what works” in education. It has established that, although there are more significant educational improvements derived from homework at secondary school, there can still be a modest but positive impact at primary level. Homework isn’t just some joyless pursuit of knowledge. It’s an integral part of learning. Beyond the chance to practice and reinforce what you’ve learned in class, it’s also an opportunity to develop independent study and application – and character traits like perseverance. Children need to know that what they do has consequences. At secondary school, if a pupil doesn’t complete their homework, they risk falling behind. They may also hold up others – clearly it is harder for the teacher to keep the whole class moving forward if some are doing the homework and others aren’t. At primary school, too, we all want our children to develop their knowledge – but we also want them to develop values. Homework set at primary school is likely to be of relatively shorter duration. But if a child is asked to do it and they don’t, for that to have no consequence would not be a positive lesson. Ultimately, of course, the responsibility for a child’s educational development is a shared one. Parental involvement makes a big difference, from the very earliest stage. In the early years parents can support their child’s development through story telling, singing or reading together. Later on, homework can give an ‘in’ for continued involvement in learning. Homework should not in general require adult help, and with today’s busy lives it certainly can be hard to find the time. But I know as a parent that we are called on as reinforcements if an assignment is especially challenging. Other times, it falls to parents just to give a nudge. I want all children to enjoy their progress through school and they will have a much better chance of doing this if they are not having to play catch-up during the day. Parents need to trust teachers, with all their experience of teaching and learning – and know that their child’s homework is not just proportionate, but will be of lasting benefit. From motivation and self-discipline to the wonder of independent learning, homework can teach children about far more than the part-whole model, some ducks and a jagged shoreline.

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Whitehall Primary School

Family Homework 

At Whitehall, we believe that homework is an opportunity for parents/carers to become active partners in supporting learning. Homework can help promote a positive attitude to learning at home and show children that home and school are working together in partnership. We believe that homework should be enjoyable for the child and should stimulate imagination and creativity, reinforce lessons taught in school and give the opportunity for applying learned skills.

At Whitehall, we aim to:

  • Give pupils the opportunity to extend their learning in areas of personal interest and stimulate imagination and creativity
  • To encourage children to develop the confidence, independence, resilience and motivation needed to study away from the school environment 
  • Provide opportunities for parents and children to work together, thereby, fostering an effective partnership between home and school 
  • Ensure a consistent approach throughout the school

Homework will be broken into two key elements- core homework and optional family homework. Core homework activities which will consist of spellings, times tables, number facts and reading.

Research and longitudinal educational studies have shown that homework has very little impact on the progress children make at primary school unless it is reading and the learning of rapid recall facts. What has the most impact is talking to others, sharing ideas, and exploring concepts. These things cannot be shown through the completion of a sheet, but are ingrained in the quality of conversation that is had in the moment and the reflection that comes from that. Our homework policy is now in line with the research that is recommended from the Educational Endowment Foundation which is an independent educational body that supports educational development of all children.  

Core Homework:

  • Reading for Pleasure - at least 20 minutes daily 
  • KS2 Read Theory 3 x weekly 
  • Daily practise of Number Bonds/Times Tables/telling the time (as appropriate to year group)
  • Weekly spellings 
  • Family Homework: At least one piece of Homework returned after each holiday

Family Homework:

Family Homework invites the children, siblings and parents/carers to spend time together, collaborating and having fun when completing the tasks set. Families will have the opportunity to complete a series of tasks that are sent home at the beginning of each half term.  The suggested activities list is not exhaustive; we ask the children to do as many of the suggested ideas as they wish. Families are able to choose when they do the homework and how this could look so there is flexibility built in for our differing families and all of their needs. 

Feedback will be given to pupils on their homework in a number of ways:

  • Directly from the teacher in the form of verbal feedback
  • Peer feedback during sharing/celebration assemblies once a half term. 
  • Marked tests (spelling/times tables etc) 

Pupils with SEND:

We aim to ensure that all tasks set are appropriate to the ability of all.  We endeavour to adapt any tasks set so that all children can access homework at their level.  When setting homework to pupils who have SEND, we refer, wherever possible, to their Educational Health Care Plans.

Children from Reception will take home common exception words to learn and have daily reading at school. This is supported by book banded books that they take home. This continues at home with children being able to take home banded books as well as books from the classroom and library to support interests they might have or text they may want to explore. Children have reading records that parents are asked to fill in.

From Y3-6 children will have books they take home, some will be banded according to the children’s needs, books from the library and a new programme called Read Theory. This is an online programme that the children will have log-ins for. Children are able to read texts and answer questions on them. Teachers will have an overview of the amount of reading the children are taking part in and how active they are on this. Children from Y3-6 will not need to fill in reading journals.

We appreciate that this will look slightly different for Year 6.  We will will be in touch with CGP books which we encourage parents to purchase as additional homework as they start to prepare for secondary school. 

This is something that we will trial for and will solicit pupil, staff and parent feedback on at the end of the academic year. Schools where this has been rolled out have said it has changed the family dynamic and culture around what homework is and how much more engaged and excited the children have been by this. We hope this policy will place families and the quality of interactions that family members have with each other at the heart of our provision and that the children see it very much in keeping with our values as a school in nurturing a holistic approach to learning. 

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The Homework Debate 2021: Do Primary Schoolers Really Need Homework?

the homework debate

The homework debate resurfaces every year without fail. It is a popular topic with parents, primary school teachers, online tutors, and politicians alike. Should homework be banned? Is homework at primary school necessary? Do pupils receive enough education in class that homework is nothing but a waste of time? – These are all questions that you have no doubt heard before.

Is the homework debate even relevant in the context of COVID-19? As an  online maths tuition service  for KS1 and KS2 pupils, we believe so! Sometimes we set our students homework. We believe that this debate is more relevant now than it has ever been. Let’s discover why…

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“Homework should be banned!” – The call to action

Our children are too tired!

Is it the case that we put too much pressure on children these days? At the age of 7, UK primary school pupils are expected to sit their Key Stage 1 SATs test. This continues in primary school up until Year 6 when they are expected to prepare for and sit their Key Stage 2 SATs test.

Some parents argue that this leaves little time for kids to wind down at home. When can they find the time to indulge in sports, hobbies, and creative interests if their time is consumed by homework? Let’s not forget the added stress caused by the UK Coronavirus lockdown.

Primary school homework does more harm than good:

A BBC Newsround report from 2018 consulted education experts on their views of the homework debate. Nansi Ellis, Assistant General Secretary at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers argued that homework gets in the way of all the good things kids enjoy. It does not always boost performance in class.

She also highlighted that it demands a lot of parents, not only their time but also of their own educational understanding. This sometimes backfires as the methods of learning in school twenty or thirty years ago are likely not the same as those taught nowadays. This can risk causing further confusion.

BBC Newsround’s own survey of the homework debate and how much homework primary school pupils receive found that parents thought:

The results of a homework debate survey by BBC Newsround from 2018

Where is the proof?

The same BBC report saw Ellis claim that while teachers setting homework is in theory supposed to better results, there is no proof of this being the case. Rosamund McNeil from the teacher’s organisation NUT highlighted that cases abroad support this. In Finland, pupils are set minimal homework but it remains one of the most educationally successful countries in the world.

The homework debate is not just about students – it’s about teachers too!

Homework is time-consuming. Teachers must plan it and mark it, in addition to preparing their classroom lessons and reporting on pupils’ progress. Time constraints can force teachers to work late into the night at home which opens an entirely new can of worms. Overworked teachers are less effective in class. Perhaps it would be more efficient for schools to ban homework altogether.

The other side of the homework debate: Why our kids need homework

It has long been the view that homework acts as a supplement to what has been taught in class. It is an opportunity for pupils to review areas of work they might not understand, focusing their learning.

Homework for primary school students is a good thing!

Homework can be fun and imaginative, an opportunity for parents to bond with their children over education. Take the classic example of counting peas on the dinner plate to learn multiplication tables. Homework does not always have to be completed in a book or on a worksheet. It can often reflect the creativity of the teacher who can inspire children to take their learnings and apply them to the real world. Pricing a shopping list is an awesome way to practise maths while acquiring life skills!

In May 2021 we asked our social media community for their thoughts on this debate. More than two-thirds agreed that homework should not be banned. 

Think Academy instagram poll

The UK is falling behind the rest of the world:

Once upon a time the UK may have had the best education system in the world. Now is not that time. Studies suggest that  UK literacy and maths rates are falling  while in other countries they continue to rise.

As a result, many teachers and parents agree that our children require further encouragement. This is not the time to ban homework in the UK. Especially when we take into consideration the months of lost learning caused by the COVID-19 UK lockdown. This is the time to help primary school children catch up, and homework can support the effort.

The homework debate in the context of COVID-19

We touched on this earlier before considering both sides of the argument in the UK homework debate. However, with home learning more popular than ever, is there still a place for homework in UK primary school education?

The homework debate solution: Online tuition

It’s engaging for children; it reflects what they have been learning in class and saves time for both parents and teachers.  Online tuition has soared in popularity through 2020  and 2021, and could be the solution for people on both sides of the homework debate.

Read more :  How online maths tutors are helping KS1 & KS2 pupils succeed.

In the UK there are tons of tuition services helping to provide kids with a competitive edge using an extracurricular push. You can view a list of the top 15 here:  Discover the UK’s best online tutors.

If you have any comments or questions regarding this topic, please feel free to let us know in the comment below or in our Facebook group  UK Primary School Maths – Tutoring & Tips,  we will reply to you as soon as we can.  

You may also like to read:

How Think Academy’s Online Maths Courses can Help Your Child Better Prepare KS2 SATs?

Top 5 Back to School Tips  Compiled by Think Academy’s Education Experts for 2020

KS1 SATs – How to Prepare Your Little One for Their First Test!

Primary School Maths Tutors – Tips for Parents: How to Find the Right Tutor with the UK’s TOP 15 Online Maths Tutors!

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Free Maths Worksheets for Years 1 - 6

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homework uk schools

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Homework: what can it teach us?

  • Post author: admin
  • Post published: 29th September 2020
  • Post category: Class / Gender / Parents / Race / Teachers
  • Post comments: 0 Comments

By Annie Thwaite //

Love it or loathe it, homework is, and has long been, an important part of secondary education. This year’s nationwide school closures have meant that children were (and in some cases are still) being taught from home, bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘homework’ (alongside another, older meaning, associated with mostly female at-home workers, which the historian Helen McCarthy has recently written about here ). This prompted us to delve into the archives and consider the pupil and parent experience of homework in the UK since 1945. In addition, the recent need for emergency remote learning has acutely highlighted many of the longstanding social issues surrounding doing school work at home, for example, finding a quiet space to work in busy households. This blogpost explores homework in the SESC archives and beyond, and asks: what are your memories of homework?

Homework has generally been seen as an important part of learning, given to ensure that pupils can practice and improve upon what they have learnt in lessons, and get the most out of the particular subject they are studying. It might also be seen to encourage good habits of independent, unsupervised work and other useful attributes for later life, preparing pupils to enter the workplace. As secondary education expanded from 1945 onwards, homework also expanded to include different subjects and different social groups, becoming increasingly common and increasingly important. But while given in pupils best interest, homework has often been met with resentment and displeasure by all those who have had to do it, and help with it. Indeed, entrants to Merrywood Boys’ Grammar School, Bristol in 1981 were told that they were expected to give their homework ‘ proper care and thought, remembering that it is given in their interest ’; perhaps as a reminder to students like this Year 7 from Fitzalan High School, Cardiff, who wrote a morose poem about his homework in the 1977 edition of the school magazine, lamenting that ‘ homework weighs a ton ’.

homework uk schools

Yet while most (although not all) children were divided by the 11+ exams between grammar schools and secondary modern schools (and their equivalents in Scotland) after 1945, the experience of homework initially differed greatly according to individual schools and school types. Peter Gordon has noted how in grammars, homework was a more accepted part the course of education, whereas practices in secondary modern schools varied significantly. [1] According to a survey of male pupils carried out by the Central Advisory Council for Education, England between November and December 1947:

  • 24% of secondary modern boys in the survey were given up to an hour’s homework each evening, in contrast to 43% for grammar school boys
  • Just 5% of secondary modern boys compared to 55% of grammar boys did more than an hour’s homework
  • And 71% of secondary modern boys compared to 2% of grammar boys had no homework at all. [2]

Whatever the level of homework given, it soon became necessary for pupils, parents and teachers to keep track of homework and ensure its completion. School guides for new pupils have almost always made reference to the timetables and planners that would guide student’s homework. For instance, new parents and entrants of Llanedeyrn High School in Cardiff in the 2000s were told of the importance of the pupil planner and homework timetable in recording homework, the guide noting that:

  • ‘The planner provides an important means of communication between home and school. Every week we ask parents/carers to sign the Planner. The Form Tutor will also sign the Planners regularly.’
  • ‘To help parents, each child is given a homework time-table containing details of all homework set on a given night. You are asked to take a close personal interest in the completed homework thereby helping you to form a clearer picture of the nature and extent of work requirements for the form.’

As pupils progressed upwards in school, these more rigid means of tracking and assessing homework might be dropped; students entering sixth form at Llanedeyrn in 1975, for example,  were informed of their new responsibilities regarding independent study, but warned not to rush homework ‘the night before it is due to be handed in’.

homework uk schools

Meanwhile, staff had their own responsibilities surrounding the proper completion of homework. Teachers at Merrywood Boys’ School in 1974 were told to: look through a boys written work and homework so that you know the standard being achieved and can follow up poor or omitted sections. Particular attention here to neatness and presentation . In the event that students had failed to complete homework, teachers might dole out penalties. The records of Fitzalan Technical High School Punishment Book in the 1960s demonstrate how ‘Persistent refusal to do homework’ might result in corporal punishment:

18.10.61, Male pupil (2C), Persistent refusal to do homework, 2 strokes on each hand by a teacher
16.2.62, Male (1B), Persistent refusal to do homework, 2 strokes on rump by a teacher

Homework might even be given as punishment for other forms of bad behaviour in school. The minute book for the school council of Braehead School, Aberdeen in 1957 recorded the punishment given to a female student playing truant as catch-up homework:

11/12/1957 : The question was raised about [female student] playing truant and then giving Miss X a note that was of her being absent about a week ago. The Council decided that she should get homework from the teachers she missed on the day she played truant.

If homework was crucial to a pupils subject knowledge and self-development, what form was it to take? The Essex Education Committee set out its views on this matter in a 1954 journal issued to the county’s schools. [3] According to the Committee, there should be two types of homework: formal and informal. As the majority of pupils stayed for only four years (ages 11-15), formal homework was given in the attempt to cover everything they wanted to in school, particularly for English and Maths.

A certain amount of relief could be afforded to a very full curriculum and higher standards achieved if some time were given to study outside regular school hours. Essex Education Committee, 1954

Informal homework however could align with pupil’s own personal interests, whether they enjoyed craft-work, photography, collecting, or any of a range of other activities. By 1971, many of the same attitudes to the different types of homework appeared to have been retained. The CASE (Confederation for the Advancement of State Education, Essex) handbook entitled Local Schools: A Handbook for Parents from 1971 discussed ‘staying on’ for sixth form, and noted that pupils should do five sessions of homework a week, but flagged the vital importance of healthy, worthwhile hobbies. 

homework uk schools

Forms of entertainment, however, might well be prove a distraction to pupils trying to do their homework. From the onset of universal education, homework was impacted by new forms of technology in the home. In 1948, the Ministry of Works commissioned a survey in Merseyside on the effects of the radio, which noted that less than half the children could say that they did not hear the wireless at all, and 1 in 8 heard it all the time. A decade later, a Nuffield Foundation study on Television and the Child examined two commonly held sets of views: 1) that television interfered with homework and serious study, but 2) that on the other hand television encouraged new interests and so made the child more willing to take certain subjects seriously.

homework uk schools

The potential distraction caused by radios and TVs was reflected in school guides, such as the booklet of Information for Parents of New Entrants at Llanedeyrn High School from the 1970s, which implored parents to:

give every encouragement by allowing your child, if possible, to do homework in a separate room and by preventing the distracting influence of wireless and television from interfering with it.

homework uk schools

The issue of distractions in the home links to a much broader social issue, as while parents could be asked to provide suitable working conditions for their children to do homework, these demands were inevitably limited by the dynamics of individual home environments, social class, gender, age, ethnicity, local geography, and the tendency for pupils to have afterschool and/or Saturday jobs. [Read more about the relationships of parents to education in this briefing paper by Dr Chris Jeppesen]. The requirement for emergency remote education from March this year highlighted the need to understand the complex and varying needs of children’s lives away from school. Articles in the media emphasised how many families in the UK don’t have access to the technology necessary to facilitate home learning through computers, tablets or printers, or even paper and writing equipment. According to a report by the UNESCO Education Centre at Ulster University, while many parents spoke positively about home-based learning, others described difficulties in navigating online resources, and parents of children entitled to free school meals were more likely to have no or poor internet access compared to other parents. [4] Meanwhile, an estimated two million children in England live in homes affected by substance abuse, domestic violence or mental health issues. [5]

These complex social issues concerning the relationship between home life and school work are longstanding. One of the earliest longitudinal studies into education and inequality after the Second World War found that it was the home context that determined children’s ability to succeed in the education system. [6] A report by the Central Advisory Council in 1963 on ‘the education of pupils aged 13 to 16 of average or less than average ability’ found that in many urban areas, the conditions in which some families lived made it impossible for homework to be done satisfactorily. The report urged quiet rooms in schools and public libraries to be provided if all pupils were to successfully complete homework. [7] Similarly, a report by the Bangladesh Women’s Association in Great Britain examined the difficulty pupils faced when doing homework in poor and overcrowded accommodation. Other issues such as difficulties with language, mother’s and father’s lack of education, and work schedules meant that parents were unable to support children with their education, leading to under achievement of Bangladeshi children in education.

In its 1977 report, the Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration highlighted extensive concerns about the poor performance of West Indian children in schools, and recommended that the government should institute a thorough independent inquiry into the causes of underachievement. Labour education secretary Shirley Williams established the ‘Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups’ in March 1979. The Committee published its interim report West Indian Children in our Schools , or the Rampton Report, in 1981. It concluded that the main problems were low teacher expectations, and racial prejudice among white teachers and society as a whole; yet this message was widely unpopular, and attacked by the media before the report was even published. [8] Under a new chairman, the Committee’s final report, the 1985 Swann Report entitled Education for All mostly repeated Rampton’s conclusions, including that:

  • LEAs and schools should look for ways in which parents can be more closely involved in helping their children learn to read, and teachers should be better trained to understand the language needs of ethnic minority children
  • LEAs should ensure that information is provided in a form which is accessible and easily understood by parents, particularly those from ethnic minority groups
  • Schools should encourage teachers to see home visiting as an integral part of their pastoral responsibilities
  • LEA induction programmes for probationary teachers should include guidance on the needs and backgrounds of all pupils in their area

homework uk schools

Altogether, it seems that homework is about more than just making school children to spend more time studying. Instead, it represents the expansion of educational practices into the home, which has made us as a society increasingly aware of how uneven the playing field is for children in schools, due to the diversity of home circumstances. One marker of this might be seen in the way that the guides and parent handbooks created by schools from the 1970s and 80s increasingly attempted to detail their expectations about homework directly to parents (like in the examples above, from Llanedeyrn High School) – perhaps an attempt to establish and standardise good habits across families in the school community.

What are your memories of homework? Do you recall struggling through the subjects you found trickier, or do you have clearer memories of the more fun, ‘informal’ homework like the kind described in this post? Did the TV or radio distract you from work, or would you have liked even more homework to do? Let us know in the comments below.

[1] Peter Gordon (1980) Homework: Origins and Justifications, Westminster Studies in Education, 3:1, 27-46, p.41.

[2] WARD, J. (1948) Children Out of School. An inquiry into the leisure interests and activities of children out of school hours carried out for the Central Advisory Council for England in November-December 1947, p.23 (London, HMSO)

[3] Homework in secondary modern schools, Essex Education, 8, 1954, pp.7-8.

[4] Online child abuse rising during lockdown warn police, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52773344 ; Coronavirus lockdown ‘perfect storm’ for abused children, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52876226 ; Vulnerable children will ‘slip out of view’, commissioner warns, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54159977 [all accessed 23/09/20].

[5] Coronavirus: ‘2m children face heightened lockdown risk’,  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52413511 [accessed 23/09/20]

[6] J.W.B. Douglas The Home and the School (1964)

[7] MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (1963) Half Our Future. A Report of the Central Advisory Council forEducation (England), pp.41-2 (London, HMSO); Gordon (1980) Homework: Origins and Justifications, Westminster Studies in Education, p.42.

[8] The Rampton Report (1981), ‘West Indian Children in our Schools’, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/rampton/index.html ; The Swann Report (1985), ‘Education for All’, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/swann/index.html .

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