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.
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.
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.