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.