Should Schools Give Homework

Guide: Is homework a good idea or not?

The Christmas holidays are over and it's back to school!

That means lessons, assembly, seeing your friends and - for a lot of you - time to do homework again!

While giving homework to pupils in secondary schools is generally seen as a good idea, some don't think that kids in primary schools should have to do it.

For the last 100 years or so, experts have been trying to work out if it is beneficial to give homework to kids in primary schools.

In the UK, the government says it's up to the head teacher to decide whether or not their school will set extra work like this.

Find out more about both sides of the argument with Newsround's guide, and then let us know what you think of doing homework when you're in primary school.

What is homework?

Homework: A timeline

  • 1997: Just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework
  • 1998: Government publishes advice for schools in England and Wales about setting homework (e.g. pupils aged 5 to 7 should do 10 minutes of homework a night)
  • 1999: Around 9 in 10 primary schools are setting homework
  • 2012: Government gets rid of its guidelines, saying that schools should get to decide for themselves

Homework generally means work that is set by teachers for you to do outside of your normal school hours.

When you're younger, your parents might help you to do it.

But as you get older, you will generally take more responsibility for doing your homework on your own.

Professor Sue Hallam from the Institute of Education - who is one of the most experienced researchers into homework in the UK - says that in 1997, just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework.

Just two years later, this had risen to around nine in ten primary schools and the majority still set homework now.

Why do people think homework is a good idea?

Many think that giving homework to primary school children is an important part of their learning.

They believe it helps them to practice what that they have learnt in lessons, in order to get better at things like spelling and handwriting.

They say it helps to teach children how to work on their own and be disciplined with themselves - both skills that are useful later in life.

It can also allow parents or guardians to get involved in their children's learning.

To find out more about why people think homework is a good idea, Jenny spoke to Chris from the campaign for Real Education, which is a group of teachers and parents who care about how well schools are doing.

Members of the organisation believe that traditional homework is important.

Chris told Newsround: "If you like learning, homework helps to support your learning. It's really important to go back afterwards and think about what you're learning in class. Practice makes perfect."

"In parts of the world, children are doing much better in school than children in the UK. In most cases, they are doing much more homework.

"That doesn't mean you should be doing home work all the time.

"But a little bit of homework to support what you're doing in the classroom, involving your parents and guardians, is really good because it allows you to do as well as everybody else in the world."

Chris added that it is important to have a balance between homework and other activities.

"Homework shouldn't be overdone. Let's do some homework and some play."

Why do people think homework is a bad idea?

Some people think that giving homework to children at primary school is not necessary.

They think it puts too much pressure on them and that the time spent doing homework could be used to do other activities.

Jenny also spoke to Nansi Ellis - assistant general secretary of one of the biggest teacher's unions in England, made up of teachers and heads - who doesn't believe that giving homework to primary school children is needed.

She told Newsround: "There is other good stuff you can do at home, like reading, playing sport or a musical instrument, or helping with the cooking, shopping or with your siblings. You might be a Guide or a Scout.

"Those things are really helpful for you to learn to work in a team, to learn to be creative, to ask questions and to help other people. These are really important skills.

"The trouble with homework is that it gets in the way of all of those good things that you could be doing and it doesn't necessarily help you with your school work."

Sometimes parents or guardians try to help with homework and, if they have been taught differently, it can end up being confusing for the child doing the homework. They can also end up doing too much of the work themselves!

Nansi added: "Some children live in really busy houses with lots of people coming and going, and they don't have a quiet space to do homework, so they can't use it to help them to get better at studying on their own, which doesn't seem fair.

"Teachers set homework for you to get better at your learning - that seems like a really good reason. But actually, the evidence isn't clear that even that's true."

Another expert Rosamund McNeil, from a teachers' organisation called the NUT, said: "Pupils in Finland are assigned very little homework yet they remain one of the most educationally successful countries in the world."

Why is this issue being talked about?

People have been trying to find out if homework is a good thing or a bad thing for many years.

Recently, a report was done by an organisation called the Teaching Schools Council, which works with the government and schools in England.

It says: "Homework [in primary schools] should have a clear purpose."

The report explains that if there isn't a clear reason for the homework and the pupils won't necessarily gain something from doing it, then it should not be set.

Dame Reena Keeble, an ex-primary school head teacher who led the report, told Newsround: "What we are saying in our report is that if schools are setting homework for you, they need to explain to you - and your mums and dads - why they're setting it, and your teachers need to let you know how you've done in your homework.

"We found homework can really help with your learning, as long as your school makes sure that what you're doing for your homework is making a difference."

So is homework a good idea or a bad idea?

Many people have different opinions. However, the truth is it's hard to know.

Professor Hallam explains that part of the problem is that it is difficult to accurately work out how useful homework is.

Generally, people agree that homework is good idea for children in secondary school.

But for primary school, it isn't clear if there's a right or wrong answer to this question.

And you've been having your say too.

Nearly 900 of you took part in an online vote about the amount of homework you get: whether it is not enough, just right or too much.

It's just a quick snapshot of what some of you think. Here's the results:

A second-grade teacher in Texas recently rekindled the annual debate over whether kids spend too much time on homework.

The teacher said she did not plan to assign homework this school year because it has not proven to correlate with achievement (not true) and because no homework would allow families to eat together and read together, and children to play outside and have an early bed time. If only dropping homework could make these things happen!

Research overwhelmingly supports the notion that students who do homework do better in school than those who don’t.

But research also suggests the amount and type of homework must take into account the child’s developmental level. Teachers refer to the “10-minute Rule” – homework time on any given school night should be equal to the child’s grade level times 10. So a second-grader should have 20 minutes of homework. The National Education Association and the National Parent Teacher Association agree with this philosophy.

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My internet searches have never uncovered a school policy that differs greatly from the 10-minute rule. If a second-grader brings home two hours of homework, that’s not good. If an 11th-grader does five hours, that’s too much. The amount of homework kids bring home generally does not diverge from those school policies.

The perception that American kids do too much homework is also belied by a national survey that asked parents, “Do you think your child’s teachers assign too much homework, too little homework or the right amount of homework?” Sixty percent said just the right amount, 15 percent said too much and 25 percent said too little.

Beyond achievement, homework can also lead to the development of good study habits and a recognition that learning can occur at home as well as at school.

Homework can also foster independent learning and responsible character traits – essential skills later in life when students change jobs or learn new skills for advancement at work.

And homework can give parents an opportunity to see what’s going on at school and learn about their child’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Two parents once told me they refused to believe their child had a learning disability until homework revealed it to them. Maybe that 20-minute assignment should involve parents and replace screen time, not dinner or interactive play.

Opponents argue homework can lead to boredom with schoolwork because all activities remain interesting only for so long. Homework can deny students access to leisure activities that also teach important life skills. And parents can get too involved in homework – pressuring their children and confusing them by using instructional techniques different from the teacher’s.

Regrettably, research on these effects of homework are rare. In the absence of data, common sense suggests that any of these effects can occur depending, again, on the amount and type assigned.

In my experience, the complaints over too much homework come from a definable but relatively small segment of the population – parents with conflicting desires to have their children excel in school and lead balanced lives that include school, play, aesthetics, citizenship and spirituality. Homework is an easy target to express their anxiety.

Educators also find themselves caught between irreconcilable alternatives. To them, it is the same parents who rail against homework who permit (encourage?) their children to load advanced placement classes into their academic schedules. More homework comes with these classes.

Educators also question whether homework really takes five hours or whether that time includes hours clicking back and forth between homework and texting, tweeting, Facebooking.

Time on homework reaches a point of diminishing returns; too little does no good, too much does more harm than good. Teachers should base their practices on what sound evidence and experience suggest is optimal. If the amount and quality are appropriate, parents won’t complain.

Harris Cooper, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, is author of “The Battle Over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers and Parents.”

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