Are primary schools setting too much homework?

Schools need to be clearer with parents about the evidence around setting homework in primary school, says this mother

Fiona Henderson

Primary homework

When my son started primary school, he came home each night with a book to read and a workbook for us to fill in as a reading record. That was it on the homework front.

The expectation was that we would read together every day and that this was plenty. Thinking back to some of the exhausting times when my son didn’t want to read another tedious learning-to-read book, I can attest: yes, this was plenty of homework.

I assumed that at some point this expectation would ramp up, but the level of work at home has remained much the same.

My son is now in Year 5 and his homework routine involves 20-30 minutes of reading each day and times-tables practice. That’s it.

Nobody’s checking that these things actually happen, either. There is a page on the school website with some proposed further activities for parents who want to extend their children’s learning outside of school. And we have access to many of the usual online services, but there is no expectation or obligation to participate.

How much is too much?

It’s not the same everywhere, though. I spoke to other parents with children at different schools, who all receive a varying degree of homework.

One parent told me that to retrieve their child’s homework, they have to access a shared drive – navigating a complicated sign-in process – and print out worksheets for their child to fill out and return to school. And then, they start on the maths websites with assigned activities that need to be completed each week. The child is seven years old.

Hearing how much homework some primary schools give out, I felt relieved to be on the lower end of the scale. But I was surprised to discover this arrangement doesn’t sit so happily with other parents.

At a recent "meet the teacher" event at our school, one parent raised the issue. This parent wanted homework – traditional, workbook-type homework – and so did their child. And they wanted the teacher to set it for them each week. The teacher’s response was that they have tried issuing standard homework before, and, nine times out of 10, it doesn’t get done. The message seemed to be: it’s a waste of time.

Why do we set homework?

The parent in question didn’t seem to buy that response, and neither did I, because there are so many better reasons not to give homework:

  • The school day is busy and covers the curriculum within lesson time.

  • Homework doesn’t work well for children in wrap-around childcare.

  • There is not enough time to fit in extracurricular activities, family time, daily reading and downtime into an evening.

  • There is much less evidence that issuing homework at primary age is beneficial than there is to support homework at secondary age.

I am so grateful we don’t have hours of homework each week, but I feel like the school missed a trick on this one. What would help parents is if schools were clear on what the expectations on homework are throughout the school, and why the policy is what it is?

Whether your school issues a lot of homework or not, it helps if parents are informed early on and reassured that the children’s best interests are at the heart of that decision.

Fiona Hughes is a freelance writer

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Fiona Henderson

Fiona Hughes is a freelance writer based in Devon

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