The homework dilemma

Blackboard with a poster saying "the homework dilemma"

I know homework for primary school children can be a contentious topic. In 2017 an OFSTED report stated that more than 30% of parents don’t think its helpful. Indeed, its recently caused lots of chat in large boy’s class parent’s Facebook group.

I certainly found in year 1 that there was a lot to deal with. At that time, large boy had spellings and reading daily (ideally) plus weekly maths. Trying to squeeze two sets of learning into a day where we’re out of the door at 7.30am and often not back until 5.30pm, when they also needed tea and it was bedtime at 7pm, was almost impossible – add in remembering school lunch choices, snacks and a drink every day, Beavers, and all the non-uniform and fundraising date and I just had a huge meltdown after the first half term. I ended up delegating spellings and reading to himself to have a chance of keeping everything under control. Now small boy is in year 1 and I’m bracing myself for the return to that level of homework needing parental support, at least this time we know its coming and how to deal with it before I end up sitting crying in the corner of the kitchen because its all too much.

Now large boy is in year 4, they seem to have slightly more homework than last year but really not much difference from year 1 – its just that it seems less because he’s able to do it all independently. However, starting to do homework again is a big adjustment for the children who have just spent 6 months with no work in the evenings or weekends at all. For the parents too, I’m sure.

How much is too much

Some of the year 4 parents are concerned that the children have too much homework, along with getting used to being back in school and a different teacher from last year with a different style of working. Amongst the class of 30, of course there are children who struggled with home learning and aren’t at the same stage as their classmates and there’s the usual mix of abilities too. So some children and families are finding it harder than others.

Each week large boy has:

  • spellings, also practiced at school so we don’t pay much attention
  • reading, as much as possible (not a problem for our child)
  • maths website on a Friday
  • maths worksheet on a Friday (well, last week anyway)
  • literacy on a Friday (this week will be the first one)

That doesn’t seem too much to me. It really suits us because the bulk is on a Friday so we have the weekend to get it out of the way immediately. I don’t work on a Friday, so he often does it on Friday afternoon and then its done. All in all it probably takes less than 30 minutes, which seems very much in line with the recommendation for year 4 from a Leeds University report (20 years old, and right at the end of the report).

A more recent (2018) report by researchers at the universities of Nottingham and Warwick raises more substantial questions about the risk of increased inequality of opportunity when more responsibility for learning is placed on the home – where already-advantaged children are likely to benefit further from parental attention to their homework and already-disadvantaged children may receive less support. The same study, however, also reports that many teachers and schools set homework to satisfy the expectations of parents.

The other parents to children in large boy’s class seemed so up in arms about the amount of homework this morning that I quizzed large boy, afraid that there was something he’d been leaving in his drawer or forgotten about. But he says not. The amount of work they’re asked to do doesn’t seem excessive to me; really its only one bit of literacy and some maths. They’re learning their times tables too, so maybe some people are practicing those as well. I had a quick chat with another mum (to double check large boy wasn’t pulling a fast one) and she sees things as I do, that its the right amount, and confirmed that there isn’t extra work we don’t know about.

Catching up

I wondered whether the parents worrying about the homework have children who are doing some extra work to catch up too. Maybe some children have additional things because they and their families found learning in lockdown really tricky. I know the school are doing lots to support those children.

Last year’s year 3 teacher is having small groups from each class to support and give extra attention to – but these same parents are also complaining about that because their children have been singled out. I know the class teacher has also taken time to give extra help to individuals who have had trouble in a particular lesson – she’s taken time out of her lunch hour to do that, but the parents’ reaction is that their child is being punished and deprived of lunch time play. I think its very hard for school to do the right thing here; extra in-school support is embarrassing, extra homework is too much, staying in with the teacher for 1-to-1 is punishment, apparently anyway.

If none of those things is acceptable to these parents, how are their children supposed to get back to where they should be according to their abilities? The teachers can’t wave a magic wand and instantly impart knowledge and know how by osmosis.

Balancing act

I know some people think that primary school children shouldn’t have homework at all. I think daily homework would be too much – partly too hard for the children to plan and organize, but also too much for me to keep track of! Absolutely primary school, and particularly KS1, is about adapting to school, getting off to a good start with reading and writing and paths, building friendships and discovering an enthusiasm for knowledge and learning. But for the later years of primary school, the children need to start very gradually preparing for secondary school. If the homework isn’t built up bit by bit, they’ll be in for a hell of a shock when the go to high school and have 10 subjects a week to do homework for!

Trust the experts

My approach, as with so many things, is to trust the experts. If someone’s sick, trust the doctor or nurse. If the car’s acting up, trust the mechanics. If the boiler goes, trust the plumber or heating engineer. If the software doesn’t work, trust the developer, the technical writer and the support team. If there’s a pandemic, trust the epidemiologists.

When my children are being educated, trust the teachers and TAs. They have many years of experience and have seen children of pretty much every ability, every personality, all additional needs and home backgrounds. New teachers might not have that experience but they have a whole school full of colleagues to advise and support them.

They know best and if they are setting a certain amount of work in school and then some extra to do at home, I trust that they are right and that they will make allowances for the children who find it harder (for whatever reason) and stretch those who can cope with more.

25 thoughts on “The homework dilemma

  1. This post scares me honestly.

    My little boy has just started reception and honestly, I’m dreading homework. We like you leave by 7:30 and are not home until 6, my partner works shifts so often is not home for food and bedtime which means juggling everything myself mostly.

    I understand why children are given homework and I’m not against it at all, the idea just scares me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah its really tough the first few years when they aren’t able to do it independently yet. In reception its mostly just reading once they get to that point tho. Year 1 is the killer, reading, spelling and at some point maths will start too. Usually you get the weekend to do it though, so we just set aside Saturday morning for the big stuff. Everyone finds a way to juggle things, if you’re finding it tricky make sure you talk to the school. They might be able to sort some help at wrap around care. Good luck and feel free to message me if you’re struggling, I’m happy to listen.

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  2. Controversial opinion it may be, but I always feel the homework debate is focused on the wrong age group. Pupils at secondary school, around Key Stage 4, are expected to do about two hours of homework a night. I know from my own kids that homework at primary school can be a pain, but I pity the teenagers and parents trying to get teens to do homework. Two hours a day is outrageous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow 2 hours a day! That’s scary. I suppose if they do some immediately they get home maybe its not too awful. But still, I remember sitting at the dining table a lot and for ages. I don’t think training people to work at home in the evenings is a good attitude to take into the workplace in adult life. Work should stay at work, but I suppose independent learning needs to be encouraged too. Its certainly a tricky one.

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  3. I think there is a lot in the early primary and attainment isn’t that great. But I do think it helps for when they get to high school. Although my primary kids get way more than secondary does.I think it’s about finding that balance for your kid x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Yes I too agree with you trust the experts, teachers know better way than parents, they handle a lot of students simultaneously. for my kid still online classes are going on but when they used to go to school they don’t have much pressure for homework. there were minimum homeworks, that too I believe necessary to revise once again. As few kids won’t read or write by themselves if there is no homework.

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  5. I can only imagine how challenging helping kids with homework is. Specially these days! I have a friend who’s child had a project to do a 3D Map of the country. Naturally they (the parents) had to be the ones to work on it and in the end, the teacher only asked they submit a photo of the project. It wasn’t collected anymore and now it’s just stashed somewhere in their house.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s a tough one for parents and teachers at the moment. Homework isn’t something I wholly agree with anyway, but with a six month learning gap to fill, something needs to be done. So I’m taking it more seriously than ever, both as a teacher and parent.
    I agree with what you say – trust the experts, but certainly don’t shy away from calling them out either. There’s a hell of a lot to juggle at the moment, so it’s important that we all get it right.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think if the homework took lots of time and stress or involved something being set every day, I would be a bit concerned. If I thought they teachers were unfair or unkind, I’d do something – we’re all human and fallible. But I honestly think the current fuss is a storm in tea cup from a small group who have decided they don’t like the teacher’s approach. Three weeks seems rather quick to judge.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Teachers are as instrumental to our children’s well being and success as GPs and they ought to be paid in an equivalent way to demonstrate their importance. Maybe then people would value them as they deserve too – awful that money should be so ingrained in a value/worth system but it might bash it into some people’s skulls that teachers aren’t just looking for a long summer holiday and an easy ride, they are incredibly hard working and dedicated, emotionally as well as practically. Yeah, I rate teachers 😃

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If only more people had this view! I don’t take the pay as an issue, but the sheer lack of respect and appreciation is something I find exhausting. It’s nice to know that we are appreciated by some.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I do agree with trusting the experts for the most part. With this sort of thing since I have no knowledge or direct experience with it myself. I feel like I need to do so much reading up and stay so well-informed of everything school related NOW and my daughter hasn’t even started daycare yet 😱

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely! And second guessing them is disrespectful, wouldn’t do that to an electrician or doctor. I’ve long said teachers should be paid the same as doctors as their impact on our children’s well being is far greater.

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  8. I agree. I think a bit of relevant homework is good and sets them up for independent learning. Ours is always revision of what they’re doing in class, or areas the teacher wants to focus on for them to get them to where they need to be. We seem to have a lot more in our school than others, and I did worry that in Y5 it would go up more and we’d struggle. But because I’m still WFH, and he’s not at wrapround care he’s now back before 3.30 instead of at 5.50pm.

    KS 2 was when ours increased. Thankfully no project work. And generally not much or anything over holidays. The hardest bit is getting mine to read – they’re now meant to do 15 mins a day. Lucky to get him to do it 2-3 time a week.

    KS2 has english on Mondays (SPAG at the moment), spellings practice on Tues (both for Wed), Maths on Wed, revise 3 lots of timestable on Thur, then usually a comprehension or learning a poem to help with memory on Fridays. 20 mins max they’re told to do, but it rarely takes that long. Plus the reading. It was a shock going into Y3 and getting homework everyday, but it’s so much easier now he’s home earlier.

    I think it’s helpful – it tells me where he’s got to, what he’s understood from lessons at school, and lets me comment back to the teacher or help him with alternative explanations.

    It seems maybe your school have either a lot of uppity parents, or the school aren’t positioning their ‘booster’ sessions correctly. N’s school also do boosters, where different kids get taken out for specific topics or areas. Not all are struggling but it’s a way to get smaller group time with a TA. N’s done reading boosters in class 2, in class 3 was one of a couple of groups doing comprehension practice and tips, and now seems to be doing another set of boosters (can’t remember what he said). His only annoyance is that he misses out on part of PE, rather than getting out of something like drama. It’s a great offer that we never had when we were children, and it’s nothing unusual in his class, as so many of them get boosters that it’s not a sign of being picked out or being worse at something than others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suspect it’s a bit of uppity parents and a bit maybe the school not communicating that well about the catch up sessions either to the parents or to the whole class, they need to make it not a big deal to the kids so they don’t lose confidence or feel self conscious.

      Thanks for the lovely long comment x

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