Homework - love it or loathe it?

Yvonne Watts
15 March, 2019 : 09:58
0     0

So…why do we have homework?

As a mum first, teacher second and headteacher third, I can understand the reasons that teachers set homework. I can also understand the many other demands on home life – and the battles that can ensue when you’re trying to complete whatever task has been set. Let’s have a look at this emotive issue from some different perspectives:

National expectations

Back when I was teaching, there were recommendations for homework provided from the Department for Education. This guidance even went so far as to provide daily or weekly amounts that should (never must) be completed, which increased depending on the age of the child. The guidance has changed over the years (and over different governments) and there is now no specific guidance or statutory expectations. However, the benefits of homework are still included in the current Ofsted framework. For instance, in the outstanding grade descriptors for Teaching, Learning and Assessment, it states that:

“Teachers set challenging homework, in line with the school’s policy and as appropriate for the age and stage of pupils, that consolidates learning, deepens understanding and prepares pupils very well for work to come.” (Ofsted, Section 5 Handbook, September 2018.)

It is important to note that this does not make the requirement statutory, and a school could achieve an outstanding grade without setting homework. However, it would be down to the school’s leaders to explain what they do and why homework isn’t set. This may form part of the school’s Assessment Policy or a separate Homework Policy. Notably, Ofsted are currently consulting prior to updating the inspection framework so this expectation is likely to change.

Benefits for schools

I would suggest that many of the benefits for schools are detailed in Ofsted’s quotation above. As a teacher, I felt it important for children to have opportunities to consolidate what they had learned in class. Having a horrendous memory myself, I know how hard it is to retain information when you move on to something else.

It’s important that you check the expectations for your child(ren)’s particular school. Every school will be a little different. Some of the school’s reasoning is likely to be around national expectations and some probably to do with the school’s beliefs as to the importance of homework.

Benefits for parents

As a parent, I know how difficult it could be to have three book bags sitting there all weekend, dreading the moment. Like most things, though, the anticipation can be so much worse than the reality. So, we got into a routine that any homework came before the fun stuff whenever possible. It can be a case of juggling it, too, so one of my children might be doing their homework whilst another was having their swimming lesson, and then swapped over during the other lesson. You have to do what works best for you, but if you can manage it, a specific time and a specific place (which can be the dining table or a lap tray) for homework should be kept to.

I believe the major benefit for parents is that you know what your child is learning in school. This means that you may be able to help them with something they’ve found tricky or look for opportunities to enrich what’s happening at school with something fun at home or in the holidays. For example, if your child is studying WWII you could take them to a museum or try to speak with an elderly neighbour who may have childhood memories of the war.

Benefits for children

I know homework can be painful, but I feel that it can be very valuable. If a regular time can be built up over the years, then this will help your child to build their work ethic. That will help them as they move on to more independent study (at university, for example) or in the workplace.

Without doubt, listening to a young child read every day will help them to progress. And if there is other regular work, it becomes very obvious to the teacher which children have received extra support at home, and those who haven’t. That doesn’t mean it’s a competition, though, I suggest you do what you can do to support your child but what others do is none of your concern.

Likely variations

Even though each school will have their own policy, it’s important to appreciate that each individual teacher will have some autonomy as to what homework they set, when they do it and what happens to it afterwards. This can be really frustrating, not least if you have one child (older or younger) that is expected to do lots of work at home which can contrast with another child in the same school who gets hardly any! Something else that doesn’t always lead to harmony in the household. A quick chat with a teacher, or a check of the class page on the school’s website, should help to clarify what’s needed. It’s frustrating again if the work doesn’t get marked but the rationale behind this may even be identified on a school’s policy – so do check.

Homework will also vary depending on the age of the child, so generally secondary pupils will receive more homework, and different teachers for different subjects can mean that the expectations are quite problematic to manage. Again, it will help your child to learn to juggle different expectations, which will happen throughout their life.

And finally…

A plea from teachers everywhere - please support your children with their homework, but don’t be tempted to do it for them! Teachers will know (even if it’s in the child’s writing) and there’s no point to this.

I’ve definitely sat and marked Year 4 fractions completed by a 35-year-old. This is a waste of everyone’s time and gives children the belief that you will always bail them out. There will come a time when you probably won’t be able to do the work - so be warned!

Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.

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Yvonne Watts

Dr Yvonne Watts was a primary headteacher for 14 years. Her first school gained outstanding status under her leadership, which was sustained until she moved on to new challenges in larger and more diverse schools. Yvonne recently set up her own education consultancy and now supports schools with their developments.

Before becoming a teacher, Yvonne led an active role in the PTAs of her children's schools. She has always greatly valued the importance of establishing positive links between home and school.

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