David Blunkett, the shadow education secretary, recently called for national homework targets for primary and secondary pupils of half-an-hour and one-and-a-half-hours a night. He justified the move by pointing out that primary children were spending up to 12 times longer in front of the television than they were with their schoolbooks.
The Labour spokesman's statement was criticised by most of the teacher unions, but Mr Blunkett may feel that a survey of 2,300 11 and 12-year-olds that the National Foundation for Educational Research is to publish on November 17 vindicates his stance.
The NFER researchers found that 43 per cent of the top primary children said they were not given any homework while 64 per cent of the first-year secondary pupils were doing less than the one-and-a-half hours he recommended.
Twenty-four per cent of the primary pupils spent half-an-hour or less on homework and about 16 per cent devoted an hour a day to their schoolbooks. Only one in ten of the primary pupils clocked up an-hour-and-a-half or longer. Nearly 80 per cent of the primary children, however, spent two hours or more a day watching television - 11 per cent admitting to no fewer than six hours of TV viewing. Nearly 43 per cent of the primary pupils played computer games for no more than an hour each day, but a significant minority (10.5 per cent) were "addicts" who played for four hours a day or more.
Predictably, the secondary children did more homework than the primary pupils - 19 per cent hit Mr Blunkett's target of one-and-a-half hours while 13 per cent did even more -- but they also managed to watch even more television. One in three admitted to four hours or more a day, but they appeared slightly less interested in computer games.
The confidential questionnaire survey, involving 79 randomly selected schools in England and Wales, also found that about half of the pupils in each age group had not talked to their teachers about their work during the school year. One in 10 pupils said they disliked being at school and more than half of the children in each age group said they had been bullied.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of the children - particularly the girls - enjoyed school and liked their teachers. They especially enjoyed lessons where they could make something or work with their friends. "The primary pupils tended to hold slightly more positive attitudes than the first-year secondary pupils, but the study found no evidence of a dramatic deterioration of pupils' attitudes after transition to secondary school," the researchers report.
They also point out that although most of the top primary children were happy, 30 per cent of them sometimes became bored. "This could be explained by the fact that it is common practice for primary work to be approached using an integrated day, where pupils may work for extended periods of time on one or more areas of the curriculum. It may therefore be worth adopting (at least in the top year) a more clear-cut timetable."
Attitudes to school of top primary and first-year secondary pupils, by Wendy Keys, Sue Harris and Cres Fernandes, Pounds 12 from the Dissemination Unit, NFER, The Mere, Upton Park, Slough, Berkshire SL1 2 DQ.