Homework is a touchy subject, everyone has an opinion on it and its purpose is widely debated. In the past weeks the homework debate has surfaced and has been dominating news headlines following on from one secondary school’s decision to scrap it completely and parents at another school in Spain boycotting the completion of it for an entire month. Situations like this are extreme, but nonetheless they come with click bait headlines with the sweeping generalisation that homework has no impact on students’ academic performance. This is partly true for students at primary level – homework has little impact on a primary student’s grades, although it does have proven benefits elsewhere, such as home-school communication and student independence which have positive impacts on other areas of a child’s education.
However, homework at a secondary level has proven links not only to student attainment and higher grades but also to other aspects of education that impact the academic performance such as parent-child relationships, home-school communication, peer interactions and personal development, highlighting just how meaningful the setting of homework can be. Research conducted into the worth of homework by The Education Endowment Foundation found that the setting of regular homework at secondary level adds up to 5 months’ additional progress onto a child’s learning whilst incurring minimal costs – proving that this is a simple yet cost-effective way to raise standards.
There are of course frustrations with homework that go beyond the viewpoint that it doesn’t contribute to a child’s learning. There is a lot of stress that is associated with it for all involved, but it isn’t homework itself that causes this, it’s the processes and paperwork surrounding it that are to blame. For example, the actual setting of homework can be tiresome for teachers. It can eat into lesson time, tracking completion and hand in rates can be time-consuming and long-winded and it certainly isn’t uncommon for students to misplace worksheets or miscopy instructions from the board. Then there is the issue of the actual content being set – is it worthwhile, meaningful, engaging? Does it further enhance students’ knowledge? Is it varied, differentiated, flipped?
For students, stress can stem from unclear directions on how to complete homework, not having the relevant resources and not knowing how long to spend on an individual task. This can be heightened as well by schools having an unclear homework policy and multiple tasks being set or due in on the same day, making for an unmanageable workload. This of course can add to parent frustrations who share the burden with their child as well as themselves not knowing when homework has been set, when it’s due and having to deal with last minute deadlines being brought to their attention.
There is no denying the frustrations homework can have on those involved, but it is also hard to dispute the positive impacts it can have when done right. Homework is integral to education, it consolidates and pushes students’ learning further than what can be achieved during school hours. When schools execute a robust homework policy, avoiding multiple set and due dates on the same day is easily avoided. Uploading homework online and sharing tasks with parents and students effectively promotes parental engagement and involves them in the homework process, reducing the stress they feel when at home and outlining a variety of different tasks and homework types that can be set can encourage teachers to be more creative when it comes to setting homework.
In order to really make homework worthwhile, schools need to put it at the top of their agenda and realise how it can help further whole-school improvements. In order for a secondary school to be rated ‘Outstanding’ Ofsted states: “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.” Dismissing homework will not help to secure a good rating. Ensuring attention is paid to it, that homework set is tracked and students and parents are reminded of the worth of it will all help in ensuring you, your students and your school are performing to the best of your abilities.