HOMEWORK should not prevent children from taking part in sport, music or other activities, and should not generate vast amounts of marking, headteachers have been advised.
The quality of the homework teachers set is much more important than the quantity, says guidance published this week by the National Association of Head Teachers.
From September governing bodies will be required, as part of their home-school agreements, to publish a homework policy.
The Department for Education and Employment has recommended an hour a week for five- to six-year-olds, 90 minutes a week for seven and eight-year-olds, and 30 minutes a day for 10- and 11-year-olds.
At secondary school, children are expected to do between 45 and 90 minutes a day in Years 7 and 8, between one and two hours a day in Year 9, and between 90 and 150 minutes in years 10 and 11.
David Hart, NAHT general secretary, said: "The DFEE's suggested time allocations are a useful guide for schools to follow. The really crucial issue is the need for homework policies to set out clearly the purpose of homework and the expectations placed on pupils and their parents.
"Controversy surrounding the value of homework only serves to confuse parents and children. The precise amount of time spent on homework is much less important than the quality of tasks set and the way they are planned to support learning."
The Government was angered by recent research which claimed that its drive to raise primary standards with nightly homework may do more harm than good.
One study, from Durham University, found that children who did the most homework gained lower test scores than 11-year- olds who were set homework only once a month. Another study, from King's College, London, found nine year-olds who did maths homework once or twice a week did no better than those who only did it occasionally.
The findings were denounced by Education Secretary David Blunkett, who dismissed critics as middle-class "elitists" who ignore working-class children's needs.