MINISTERS' obsession with homework does not find any echo among parents. A survey conducted by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council found that of their top 10 concerns homework was the lowest priority among those with children at secondary school and in third bottom place for parents of primary pupils.
The findings were presented to a parents' conference in Wellington Academy, Greenock, at the weekend by Judith Gillespie, the council's development manager.
They were based on returns from 380 of the 650 PTAs that had renewed their membership of the council by the end of January.
Parents in 317 primary schools, representing 80,000 pupils, put bullying at the top of their agenda (35 per cent), followed by discipline (28 per cent) and funding (23 per cent). Worries about teaching standards, another Government favourite, were shared by 21 per cent. Homework was cited as a concern by just 16 per cent.
In the 63 secondary schools involved, representing more than 57,000 pupils, Higher Still was the chief concern (33 per cent) followed by drugs (30 per cent) and bullying (29 per cent).
Teaching standards were a worry for 21 per cent. Homework was mentioned by just 11 per cent, below school transport, funding and school uniform.
The failure to ignite parental excitement in homework contrasts with ministerial pronouncements. David Blunkett, the Education and Employment Secretary, has stipulated that pupils in England and Wales should do at least 30 minutes' homework a night from the ages of seven to 11, and up to 2.5 hours in secondary schools.
The Scottish Office has eschewed rigid specifications but made it clear schools should set out clear expectations (School Management, page 19).
Mrs Gillespie said the survey was no more than "an interesting snapshot". But it was a fair sample of the council's membership and also struck the right balance between primary and secondary.
"What these findings make clear is that parents' agenda is very different," Mrs Gillespie said. "There is a mismatch between what the Government says parents want and what parents want. So parents should perhaps assert themselves a bit more."
John MacBeath, head of the Quality in Education Centre at Jordanhill, said:
"Our evidence is that if parents conceive of homework as doing five spelling words or 10 sums, then it is an arid experience and of dubious value. But where schools succeed in getting across the message that parents should work with them, embedding pupils' learning outwith the school whether it is reading with their children or working out weights and measures, then that is a vital ingredient. It is in tune with the general consensus that what pupils learn out of school is very important."
Katrina McLellan, chair of the Notre Dame High school board in Greenock, one of 140 parents who attended the conference, said after: "I don't know why anyone should be surprised that homework comes so low in parents' concerns, because most parents have experienced homework themselves and there is no mystery about it, unlike some other educational issues."
Bernard McLeary, director of education for Inverclyde Council, which organised the conference, said parents were now "more sophisticated and demanding". The concern over Higher Still reflected a greater awareness of policy issues. Inverclyde has appointed a parent officer and a parent representative to the education committee. There is also a parental strategy group.