Parents’ view: Make homework voluntary

29th January 2016 at 00:00

There’s no doubt that homework is a bit of a blue touchpaper issue with parents. But what’s clear is that there’s little consensus about it. Some parents want more, harder homework; others less, easier homework. That said, parents and indeed educators, would probably all agree that homework stands or falls by its quality (in terms of planning, execution and marking).

And there is a deal of evidence from the Mumsnet talkboards suggesting that the whole business of homework, irrespective of how much or how hard it is, could be done better. Some schools haven’t caught up with the realities of 21st-century life; specifically, that most households need two incomes to get by.

For parents who don’t get home from work until gone 6pm and plunge into the dinner-bath-bed whirlwind, the homework folder can feel like a reproach: “The 1950s called, and they want their gender roles back.”

Vastly ambitious holiday projects that require the production of a working volcano surely, in many cases, measure nothing more than parents’ proficiency in ordering parts off Amazon and ladling papier mâché while their children stay still and try not to glue their body parts together.

A Mumsnet bugbear is homework that is rarely, casually or belatedly marked. It is a disincentive to children and makes parental intervention all the more necessary.

There’s nothing like a battle about homework to turn parents into parodies of rebellious teenagers. One Mumsnet user went the full Ferris Bueller on receipt of a sheet headed “Activities to be done with parents”: “How dare teachers tell me what to do! I’m not their pupil. I’m a grown up and I don’t have to do their poxy homework! Ach, just throw it on the fire and take the car downtown.”

As with so many things, there must be a sensible middle course to be steered. Most parents want their children to achieve to the best of their ability and to get into good habits of independent working. A good homework policy can help.

Perhaps we could start by agreeing that homework for infants should, as a rule, be explicitly voluntary.

There’s a clear case to be made that children in secondary school, approaching important exams and life choices, need to learn about prioritising their time and the value of extra effort; it’s less clear that this is the case for 6-year-olds.

Many conversations on Mumsnet revolve around sobbing children falling asleep in their dinner while spelling sheets remain incomplete; surely this is not a sensible use of anyone’s time or energy?

To be fair, many report that teachers are more than happy to be flexible when approached by parents of distressed or unwilling children. Other parents are blessed with children who genuinely enjoy homework. Making it abundantly clear that homework for younger pupils is to be done entirely at their parents’ discretion would be a hugely welcome step forwards.

Justine Roberts is founder and chief executive of Mumsnet. See mumsnet.com/talk/education @justine_roberts

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