The Great Homework Debate: are you a Too Much or a Not Enough?

As one UK secondary school is set to ban homework we ask whether work should stop at school

It’s Friday and, for most, it’s the end of the working week. As I write, I can see it’s approaching 3pm and our children will be in the last lesson of the day. Pencil cases will be tantalisingly close to getting zipped up; the school bell set to ring. It's almost time for teachers across the land to utter those three little words:

It's home time.

So why, once home, do our children have to start work again? A new Norfolk free school announced last week that homework could be replaced with extra school study time. Plans would see their 11-18 year old pupils do a 45-hour week at school, staying until 5pm for extra study and then having their evenings free. Its headmistress Claire Heald said in a BBC article that it’s a scheme that has already been adopted successfully at independent schools and proved viable in other parts of Europe.

But would a ban on homework be good news for parents?

A friend of mine has been a secondary school maths teacher for many years. She says you can split parents straight down the middle when it comes to what work they want their children to do at home. 50% think their child gets too much homework and 50% think their child doesn’t get enough.

The first half (the Too Much gang) say that homework puts undue pressure on their child and often on the family too. Parents bemoan having to cajole their children into doing homework – all too often right up against the deadline – or, and we’ve all done it, finishing off their child’s project for them at silly o’clock because it's due in the next day. The other half (the Not Enoughs) regularly demand that their children have a more rigrous homework life. They want their child to be constantly challenged outside school. That extra bit of practice could be the difference between a B and an A or even A* they say. One of my local schools is notorious for setting masses of homework. “Yes, that’s exactly why I send my son there,” says a neighbour.

No wonder, then, that my friend the maths teacher advocates a two-tiered homework system. A basic piece of homework is set for all children that is manageable and easily linked back to supporting curriculum learning. Everyone is expected to complete this task or at least try to complete the task. Then those who are willing or able or both have the option to do a second or even third piece of homework that may enable them to take their learning to the next level. The latter is entirely optional and no child will be marked down for not giving it a go.

It seems to be a sensible solution but what about those who think that children shouldn’t have any homework at all? Another friend, this one a book publisher and school governor, feels strongly that paid work should stop at work and the same rules should apply to school.

“I consider myself good at what I do and if I was constantly taking work home with me at the end of the day, I would be concerned that I wasn’t doing my job properly,” he said recently.
“I work at work; at home I rest and get ready to work again. I worry what message we are giving our children if we tell them that the six or seven hours they spend at school each day isn’t enough.”

Obviously there are always exceptions and, on occasion, the laptop has to get flipped open
at home. Likewise at exam time, homework in the form of revision is essential. But there is a short, sharp sprint nature to the exercise rather than an endless homework marathon.

So as the time for the school bell to ring gets closer and teachers begin to stack the homework sheets by the classroom door, do you wish your child could have the weekend off? What about a couple of weeks off or even the rest of term? Or are you glad that this weekend your child will brushing up on some Shakespeare or locking down advanced algebra?

Me? Well I think I need to do a bit more homework on this one.

Please, Sir, can I get an extension?