The Great Homework Debate

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A chance remark by a comedian has re-ignited the debate about homework. It’s a bit of a perennial this one. Rather like the school sports day issue, it’s a bonfire that never quite goes out quite, its embers flaring up from time to time.

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Casting my eye over my daughter’s homework diary. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep a straight face while taking a self portrait.

The comedian in question was Rob Delaney. Delaney, who originally hails from the United States, lives in London with his wife and two children and took to twitter asking why primary school aged kids are expected to do homework. This ignited the debate and radio shows and newspapers have been running with the story ever since.

I can’t quite decide where I sit in this debate. I personally see no harm in primary school-aged children bringing some work home, but there should be limits.

I have the two daughters, Helen aged nine and Izzy aged five. I can see that Helen’s homework has just been ratcheted up a notch as she has started in Year 5.

I kind-of expected Helen to be coming home with more homework at this stage. She has, after all, got SATS to look forward to at the end of this school year (I’m not even going to go there, that’s a whole other discussion).

I physically can’t sit both kids down at a table and expect them to complete their respective homework tasks at the same time because I need to give them both my full attention. I have tried, but all that happens is I end up trying to split my time between them and it doesn’t work. Helen’s work is now too complex and I need to give her undivided attention so homework for both children must be done separately.

What has surprised me is the amount of homework Izzy is coming back home with. She has just started Year 1 and is being expected to read every night, plus undertake an English language and mathematics task each week.

When Helen was in Year 1, just four years ago, the only homework the kids bought home each week were some spellings and reading. In four years, the amount of homework being issued has been varied, which is possibly no bad thing. At the same time, however, it has clearly been increased.

As I say, it’s too early to tell whether it has been increased to a sensible level or whether this will be too much. I think if we just had the one kid bringing work home I think it would be fine. With two kids, however, I think it may prove to be a bit too much and only time will tell as we progress through the academic year.

When this debate rages, it always seems to focus on primary school aged children. This, I feel, misses a massive point. It’s the secondary school kids I feel sorry for.

At Key Stage 3, those aged between 12 and 14 years, are expected to come home and complete between one and a half and two hours of homework a night. For children at Key Stage 4, youngsters aged 14 to 16, two hours is the expected period of time to be spent on school work each evening.

Let’s do a few sums here. These Key Stage 4 kids spend seven hours in school each day, that’s 35 hours a week. Let’s assume they only do homework on week days. That’s a further 10 hours of home study. For agrument’s sake we’ll say thirty minutes of travel each way to and from school each day. That adds another five hours on to the school day each week.

That’s a total of 50 hours a week spent at school, studying at home or travelling to and from school.  I personally feel that level of home study is a ginormous burden and it must surely stop teenagers from taking part in valuable extra-curricular activities such as the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, Scouts, rugby, football, swimming etc.

Yes, I have some concerns about the amount of homework my primary school aged children bring home. I am, however, considerably more concerned about how much they will bring home once they’re in the secondary school system because that, to me, looks like a pressure cooker.

What are your thoughts on the amount of homework schoolchildren are expected to bring home? Do you think the balance is right at secondary and primary schools or do you think young kids shouldn’t get at all? Do you share my concern that teenagers are expected to do too much?


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30 thoughts on “The Great Homework Debate”

  1. Hi, it’s a tough one. Yes children need to learn but they also need to enjoy their childhood. Learning can also take place in many ways it just doesn’t have to be about reading or maths in a set task #thatfridaylinky

    1. Absolutely, I am amazed how much emphasis at school is put on maths and reading. Essential subjects of course, but it’s not the be all and end all of education. Too much homework does indeed detract from the care-free years of childhood and that’s no good thing.

  2. I guess I’m a bit of a tough task master. But, I liked the school giving homework. I enjoyed the quality time with my children and tried to make it fun. I wanted my children to achieve high standards. So, I felt it was good all round. Saying that, there needs to be a balance and there needs to be time not only for clubs but also time for kids to be completely free too.

    1. Yes, doing homework can be fun. Sometimes, however, it;s like pulling teeth. I do sometimes struggle with it, having to do homework with two kids at different levels. I’m not opposed to it, but there do need to be limits.

  3. It is a tough one John. I was never a fan of the whole after school getting them down to homework process, especially in primary school. And kids are different. Some kids get time management and some don’t. The whole thing has worked smoothly with our younger one, a boy: he got it pretty quickly that if she did his homework — properly and diligently — soon after coming in from school, then he had the rest of the evening to do his own thing. Including sporting activities. Our daughter, from the get-go, has always fought against this, always pushing and dawdling, and faffing around for an age before getting down to it, and to this day, she often finishes stuff late in the evening. But she does finish it. This whole scenario has caused so much friction down the years, damned when we ushed her to get going, and damned when we didn’t. So …

    1. Interesting stuff Edna. See you’ve been through this and can comment with experience. Interesting to note the contrast between your two kids and the amount of tension over the years. that is one of the biggest criticisms of homework I feel.

  4. In primary school I think kids need to be kids. Yes part of that is learning but it’s also important that they play.

    Sometimes I wonder if homework is given so all parents help their kids learn to read etc. If there was no homework would every single child be helped to read (for example) every day by their parents? Perhaps not.

    1. yes Kevin, I kinda agree. Is homework for the parents’ benefit? get them involved in the teaching? get them to see what the kids are doing. Makes a lot of sense.

    1. So many teachrs commenting on this post questioning homework’s value. i think this says a lot but I am still surprised at the strength of feeling.

  5. That is a tough issue. My kids are still very little so I don’t have anything to say from a parent’s point of view. But as a former teacher, I can see how homework is not really very helpful to Kindergarten students. When I was teaching, their only homework was to read at least one book with their parent together and have their mom/dad write the title down in their journal. We also had a no homework on Friday policy.

    1. Yeah, I think for kids of kindergarten age (Reception in the UK) it’s simply too much. For teenagers I am sure there’s value, but two hours a night is far too much I think.

    1. Yes Claire, many, many people have strong views on Homework it would seem! Loads commenting on this post and very few are supportive.

  6. I am torn as a parent and a languages teacher when it comes to homework. However my thoughts are this: at secondary school it’s important to keep the language practice up little and often so students need to practise at home to progress (especially those with only one or two lessons a week). As for Primary I feel the onus should be more on play. I received this week a lost of 12 challenges for my daughter (aged 4) to complete and me to log and prove or she won’t be mentioned in assembly, I find the idea onerous. Remembering cataloging getting proof. The tasks themselves are generally ok.

    1. Now that’s a lot of pressure for a four year old. It’s a horrible way to teach I think and a lot of work to do by the sounds of it. Homework for teenagers sounds good in theory, but the amount they are given seems too much in my opinion.

  7. I am glad that I am no longer teaching and no longer have children in school. As a young teacher, I used to be unconcerned about assigning daily homework. It was the only way we could get through with the required material in a semester. And there is part of the problem. As my children brought home more and more homework, sitting at the table for several hours after a long school day, I began to change my mind about homework. If I was dead tired after a day of work, how could they, with shorter attention spans, complete hours of homework after school? Another problem is that often children have a question about the homework and there is no one to ask. That is frustrating for the child and for the parent.

    One new trend, thanks to the internet, is that teachers are doing their teaching via video for the students to watch in the evening. Without interruption, a 30 minute instruction can be done in much less time and the questions and “homework” can be covered in class the next day. That seems a much better option to me.

    1. I love this idea of doing homework via video. I know my children would love this and probably take in much more of the info! It’s fascinating how many teachers have commented on this post saying they are anti homework.

  8. I’m very much no homework during primary school I have recently written about it to be published this week let our children be little and have fun plenty of time for homework in high school it’s an interesting topic Thank you for linking to #Thatfridaylinky please come back next week

    1. It is an interesting topic and one that everyone has an opinion on. I’m not totally anti-homework, but it has to be kept manageable. Thanks for hosting #thatfridaylinky

  9. David and Donetta

    I don’t think there should be any homework for primary aged children FULL STOP! It serves no purpose other than eating into the minimal amount of time families get in an evening. You’ve done the math yourself and it’s absolutely bat-s___ crazy that any child at any age is expected to spend 50 hours a week one one thing before actually spending time being a child.

    Secondary school in the country is the main reason more and more children are suffering from stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. I’m still gobsmacked that schools are still how they are when all the evidence tells us they’re outdated and a major reason why children are struggle more mentally than ever before.

    I have 2 girls in secondary school now and the pressure is relentless and for what? To get a letter next to a subject you give zero s____s about and will probably mean nothing to you once you finish school anyway.

    Yeah, I’m against homework just in case you didn’t get that…


    1. I think I am definitely picking up the vibe you are not a fan of homework. I can’t say I’m totally opposed to it, but the approach does seem to be very random.

  10. My daughter is 7 and has a bit of homework, but not as much as last year, and not as much as some of her friends. It seems some of our teachers are on different sides of the debate as well. I think that its good to encourage self-learning and responsibility at an early age, but don’t think any child should have another few hours of schoolwork added to the end of their day. Much more important to be outside, playing sports, or just spending time with the family. #thatfridaylinky

    1. You got it Jeremy. I agree totally. Over here we have a few different types of school and academy schools tend to be the worst for this kind of thing. They have a much greater obsession with appearing highly in Government-backed league tables so they push the kids very hard and that means more homework. Such a thorny issue. As i say, I’m not 100% opposed, but homework needs to be limited.

  11. The same debate has raged here in Ireland for the past week as well.

    I have to admit I’m not totally on either side of the fence on this debate.

    I can see the merits and disadvantages.

    As a whole though I think the education system itself needs a thorough overhaul.
    Many people aren’t suited to sitting and being taught. Won’t attend university or work in a White Collar job. Yet still pursue the same primary and secondary education as those who will go onto pursue careers as Dr’s, Lawyers etc.

    Great Post and cause for thought as always John.


    1. Indeed Alan. Over here on this side of the Irish Atlantic, more people are doing apprenticeships etc. There is a bit of a shift in that direction away from degrees so in time I think the education system will change although goodness knows what impact Brexit will have. Back to the subject of homework. . .

      No, I am not totally opposed. Many parents are, but this seems to stem from a certain selfishness, truth be told. They seem to be more bothered by the impact it has on them rather than the kids. As I say, homework needs to be kept in perspective for all kids whether at primary or secondary but the amount of work given at secondary does strike me as ludicrous.

  12. As you say, this is one of those debates that just keeps on raging. Personally, I don’t like homework. My kids are in primary school – they get home at 4pm and start getting ready for bed at 7pm. Take out an hour for an evening meal, and that leaves just 2 hours of downtime (even less if it’s a swimming lesson night or after school club). I don’t think it’s fair to fill those precious 1-2 hours with MORE work from school – they need time to decompress and just chill out.

    Someone liked your post and chose to add it to the BlogCrush linky! Hurray! Feel free to grab your “I’ve been featured” blog badge if you’d like it 🙂 #blogcrush

    1. Yes Lucy, homework can be an added pressure on family life. Mine got to bed a little later and they seem to enjoy homework. We had a few struggles last year with the eldest but this year she seems to like it once more. The struggle is balancing the needs of two kids at different developmental stages. It’s not easy I find! I will take a look at #BlogCrush. My posts have ended up there a couple of times now. Must have a look!

  13. What an entertaining article is this! The blog has cut through some of the most difficult mediums and
    manages to excavate the mind of the readers. Even the style of writing is outstanding….

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