The Great Homework Debate

Homework means something different for each of my two personas (the mummy and the teacher) and the debate that was flying around twitter on Thursday- although hard to keep up with- really got me thinking. I’m new to the whole hashtag conversation thing over there and I had books to mark but I kept my eye on the debate and found it really interesting. I also read this article on Flying Start Magazine in which Gary, author of The Blog Up North talks about the demands put on school children at a younger age than parents remember experiencing whilst at school themselves. But it was the title of the article that inspired this post: ‘The Homework Battleground’.

Never a truer word spoken, except that I refuse to let it become a battleground whilst my daughter is only six. Yes, I am a teacher- but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with homework. True, I have to agree to set it for the children in my class and yes, repeat offenders who fail to return it dog-eared and scribbled upon on a Friday DO have to stay in and complete it in their own time. BUT I also offer the chance for them to complete it at school after they have finished their tasks for that lesson. The children in my class all attend Mosque school every evening and so for many, homework has to be done at the weekends. What child wants to do homework at the weekends? But a policy is a policy and the children must be set homework, not least because our parents demand it (and sometimes request more).
As a teacher, homework means finding appropriate material that can be completed at home with limited parental support, since many of the families at our school cannot speak English and therefore cannot help even with the reading books which are sent home each day. But homework has to be meaningful and has to move the learning on for the child, or there is no point…

My daughter reads well, writes well, counts well and has an enquiring mind. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased that I know she is above average for a year one child in all the core subjects. She regularly brings home pointless homework- such as sheets where she is required to colour all the squares in a picture blue, for example. I don’t see the point and so I don’t force her to do it. She reads her reading book, but she finds most of the books boring. She prefers to read Roald Dahl or something similar. Her school has never asked me to encourage her to do her homework and so I’m guessing that perhaps her teachers are of a similar mind to me. Homework is only meaningful if the child receiving it will benefit from doing it. Asking a child to go home and practise tying their shoe laces is more worthwhile than asking them to copy out some sentences about Chip and Biff’s dog, Floppy. Asking a child to write down what time their favourite television programme starts and finishes will help them out a lot more than asking them to complete a bunch of sums they could do with their eyes closed. If her school asks me about her homework, I may have to invent a dog…

More than this, I think that children should be allowed to be children. They have long days at school and short afternoons at home before they have to go to bed ready for another day at school. I say, let them play- thats when they’ll do most of their learning anyway. Let them be children for a little bit longer. Save the homework for GCSEs. Or, at least, encourage creative homework. This weekend the children in my class are to look at the night sky as part of our topic on Space and those who are that way inclined will return their research books full of stuff they’ve learnt and are interested in. There’s a lot to be said for independent learning in my opinion. But what do you think? Should I be encouraging my daughter to do her homework, as I encourage the children in my class? Should I practise what I preach at school and at home or should I just keep quiet about my daughter’s homework sheets sitting pristine on top of the toy cupboard?


20 responses to “The Great Homework Debate

  • Fran

    I had real battles with K about homework until very recently. When she first started school the work she was sent home with bored her rigid and I could completely understand. It was completely banal and unengaging, the teachers were just handing it out because they had to according to their guidelines. No thought had gone into it at all so I am not surprised K refused to do it and I felt incredibly guilty making her. So I stopped forcing it as it was becoming a huge issue as the more I pushed the more she refused. So in the end she got into trouble at school and I was accused of not spending enough time with her and not paying attention to make sure she did her homework!

    I was left stuck between coming under pressure from the school and K’s complete and utter refusal to do her homework. There were tantrums and screaming matches between us on a nightly basis and I felt torn and totally stuck.

    This set the tone then for the next few years, even when her homework did become more engaging (different school) she still refused to do it, stuck in the mindset that homework was boring and a waste of time. Now however we have luckily turned a corner, and she not only does her homework willingly but she does over and beyond what she is asked to do. She even won a certificate three weeks ago for her achievements with her homework.

    But I have learned a big lesson and will be doing things very differently with my next child.

    I just don’t see the point in handing out dull as dishwater worksheets to young children, it doesn’t engage them and turns them off learning. It is also too much for them, a whole day at school and then more on top at home, they need to be able to switch off at that age and just be kids

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  • Jenny

    Interesting one!! As a teacher I really hate homework, and find it extremely refreshing to see someone share my views!! I would much rather the children in my class out playing, taking up a hobby or helping their parents to cook dinner than sit and fill in a pointless sheet! This year, I have not given out any homework. Its is not particularly in line with our policy but as a job-share, my partner does give out some so I get away with it. If I can give work home that needs no teacher input, how much use is it really? I have the same problem with parents who take their children out of school for holidays and ask for work for them to do while away. It completely undermines the job of the teacher! I HAVE been asked about it by parents and always offer to recommend good websites or activities that they can do but explain my position on the matter. Sadly, I feel that some parents see homework as a chance to get their children ‘out from under their feet’ and request it for that purpose. What a fab blog!!

  • Kate

    We have a love hate relationship with it. Mine are in year 1 and reception. My son is above average for year 1 but sometimes he does not want to do any reading and same with spellings. They say sheets have to go back in on Thursday but they do a spelling test and sometimes I’m not sure if they’ve actually looked at it.

    My daughter appears to be above average for Rec too but struggles with some of the books she gets sent home – like the words have gone from her head. I don’t know if this is tiredness. To add insult to injury, as of last week, she now gets a spelling sheet, although I have to say she was beside herself with excitement and insisted on doing them every day. (and she was good at them too). However, I sighed a relief when she didn’t get one for the weekend.

    It’s fine when OH is home and can either deal with it whilst I’m doing other stuff or we can share the load, but if I’m on my own with them, there’s just too much on top of sorting out tea for them, and getting them ready for bed, as well as letting them be children. We keep after school activities to a minimum but still, they both have swimming lesson on Monday and son has football on Thursday which eats into time available.

    The school say they’d like to see the children reading 3 times a week. In fact, they’ve instigated something in Reception whereby they get a little certificate if their reading record is written in 3 times. Daughter was on and on about this last week, then when she got it, she said another girl got a certificate for doing the mostest reading (her words) and she wanted one too. Not any surprise that this other girl is the daughter of one of the teaching assistants in school.

    School say that kids progress faster with reading if they read regularly at home. They probably do but does it have to be structured like that. Son started reading telly screens (like sky sports news etc) which really helped him, and I don’t think he even realised he was practising his reading. The pair of them sat down today in the playroom and he wrote out all his numbers and did some sums on an etch-a-sketch they have.

    I understand what homework is for but I wish it was not quite so rigid.We do lots of learning things as we go through the day – I answer questions from the kids and I ask them stuff too. I guess not everyone is the same and its probably those families the homework is aimed at.

  • Carole

    Oh don’t get me started on homework, it has been an uphill struggle for me for many years to get my boys to do what is required of them by the school. As I like to feel I am a ‘good parent’ I have gone along with the whole homework thing and have ensured that my boys have completed any homework tasks they have been given.

    I do not agree with homework for primary school children, the school day is long enough, we as parents too work long hours and the time we do have with our children at the end of the day should not be spent in battle doing mindless work sheets that the children find so boring they could literally cry…and believe me we’ve had so may tears before bedtime over homework it makes me very angry.

  • Michelle Twin Mum

    I did a post about homework a while back and the responses on twitter/ the blog were really good and expanded my horizons. I am such a good girl that I thought I had to make JJ do his homework, even if pointless and he can do it with his eyes closed. Last week was the first time we did not bother. There was a comment in his book this week whcih I will respond to.

    I just think as we are the kind of family who do educational stuff at home that his homework is often a box ticking exercise and that seems stupid.

    Mich x

  • Him Up North

    Great post and thank you for the mention. Our youngest (he’s 9) has a new teacher (started this term) and she’s pretty strict with the homework. Anyone who forgets to hand it in has to do it in break time. Moppet didn’t hand it in this week and had to stay in. It wasn’t his fault – mum forgot to put it in his book bag – so I took it in in person and explained. Her card is marked…LOL

  • TheBoyandMe

    As a fellow teacher I completely agree. But then it is easy for you & I (as educated parents, not as teachers) to say that as our children will be guided through their play, & their education naturally supplemented. There are those parents who want to help but don’t know how, or those that want to feel involved in their child’s education; both may encourage h/w. Other chn may need the additional support but won’t get it at home, dors h/w benefit them if they have no-one to help? Ho-hum, a veritable minefield!

  • Lisa

    I agree – though teachers say they set it because parents want it, parents say oh we have to do it the school says so: I am not sure whether anybody has ever asked! Reading practise is worthwhile i think (though we haven’t opened or changed M’s reading book since October because she is reading fluently and to herself and her books are more interesting). We get *good* maths homework: bake something and weigh the ingredients/weigh the family members/add up the numbers on your car reg plate…but she gets pointless worksheets for literacy. Worse though, is the “diary” that T brings home from preschool. Why the hell are they setting ME homework?! She’s 4, she can’t do it herself and what is the point of me filling it in.

    • Jenby

      I’d love to set homework like that Lisa but is suspect in my school most parents would grumble. The children who need the support at home are the ones least likely to get it and the ones who would do it are likely to be doing activities like baking with their parents without being asked! I suspect the parents who do ask for homework are the ones least interested in doing it with their children and who just want then out of their hair for half an hour.

      • ghostwritermummy

        The parents at our school do generally want to help their kids but struggle with the language and so its hard for them. Many of our kids have tutors who make little difference overall. The ones who ask for extra homework tend to push their kids too much and are unable to appreciate what their strengths and weaknesses are. I can’t see the point in sending home mindless worksheets (that I then have to mark!) if they’re going to get nothing out of it.

    • Kate

      Certainly for my kids school, they have year group meetings at the start of each school year for the parents and they stress the importance of doing home school reading,spellings and the maths sheets. They are not expecting it to be done every day religiously, but they expect some to be done. But then, the parents they want to remind of this fact rarely attend such events.

      • ghostwritermummy

        We were given expectations at my daughter’s school but they neglected to mention they would be bombarding her with stuff to do at home. Also, parents are expected to change the reading books AND set additional homework from a list of ideas! There is home learning and there is tryingt of it too much into a school day in my opinion

  • Minty

    Couldn’t agree more! To be fair, yur homework sounds a lot more fun that the coloured squares! I work with big uns not little uns so the homework things a bit different (not that they actually do it anyway!) I say let them play xxx

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  • The Boy and Me (@TheBoyandMe)

    I’d forgotten what a brilliant post this was missus!

    My school has had an about turn on homework. The head came in six years ago and wiped homework out bar a project over half-term and spellings. We are now more than back to square one as they have English and Maths each week from Y3 upwards, ‘talk’ homework on a Thursday night, spellings, reading books and tables. THEY ARE CHILDREN!

    Thanks you for linking this up to ShowOff ShowCase (please could you add the SOSC badge to the bottom of the post?)

  • seasiderinthecity

    My son is in reception and to my eyes he is being asked to do more work at home than he does all day in school.
    He only seems to have to practice writing once a week and they learn 3 (sometimes) new sounds a week – yet we are expected to practise both every night.
    I would love to help him do more, but don’t know how to go about it & he is totally bored with the worksheets they send home.
    Great post btw x

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