The top ten homework excuses: the 2019 edition

Theresa May’s request for an extension reminded Stephen Petty of his own pupils’ failure to deliver homework

Stephen Petty

Homework, student homework, teacher, teaching

Forgetting the nation’s whole future for a moment, many of us in teaching will have snorted with derision at Theresa May’s “request for an extension” and the excuse she gave.

“Don’t blame me, my Parliament’s been malfunctioning” reminded us of the classic student excuse: “don’t blame me for my late homework, my printer’s playing up”.

If the truth be told, though, the prime minister is going have to update and upgrade her homework excuses. The printer excuse has tended to fall out of favour in recent years, given the fact that we are ready for that one and usually offer students a digital post-box alternative.

That’s not to say that the situation is any better than before. The new digital communication age has merely spawned a number of new ways to wriggle out of handing in homework, the first of which comes in at number 10 in this freshly updated official chart of most commonly used excuses.   

10. ‘I emailed it to your post-box. Didn’t you get it?’

Clever. The teacher who is poised to lay into the student is suddenly put on the back foot. Even if the teacher is completely up to date with all their latest inbox communications (which is unlikely), there is always a fair chance of things genuinely disappearing on the school’s new and supposedly upgraded “system”.  

9. ‘I was staying at my dad’s at the weekend and I left it there’

This is another canny line. A potential savaging is avoided with this gentle little reminder to the teacher that there are, perhaps, some genuinely unsettling issues going on in this young person’s home life. The teachers goes easy, just in case.  

8. ‘My mum was tidying my room and accidentally chucked it out’

Again, a wily approach. Given this pupil’s disorganised attitude to homework, the student is inviting us to imagine the likely bedroom wilderness at home. The vision of a despairing parent opting for a reckless wholesale clearance is sufficiently credible for us almost to believe it to be true.

7. ‘The dog/cat/younger sibling was sick on it’

This old chestnut is still doing the rounds. Not as clever or credible as some excuses, but many students favour this tale because of its simplicity and finality.  

6. ‘I left my book at home – forgot I had the lesson today’

Another popular option, though it does not work with teachers who have anticipated this excuse and routinely dish out a detention for leaving the book at home.  

5. ‘I didn’t understand what I had to do’

This is still in the top five excuses, despite today’s teachers rarely setting homework without first going through it carefully and checking that everyone is clear about what’s required.

4. ‘It wasn’t on Show My Homework

… or whichever system a school uses. As I have alluded to here before, if something is not on Show My Homework, the general view at their end is that it does not exist, not in any meaningful sense.

3. The ‘wrong book’ ploy

Where a student has two exercise books of the same colour, they earn themselves some extra time by handing in the wrong one, as if by accident.   

2. ‘I’ve sent it to myself at school/ it’s on this memory stick – can I go and print it out in a computer room?

Student then disappears for just a few more minutes than we might have expected. That’s because they are actually rapidly dashing something off in said computer room, then printing it out.

1. ‘It was in my bag but my bottle exploded’

Followed by an urgent invitation for the teacher to feel the residual dampness of the bag. The bag may be falling apart after those repeat floodings, yet somehow the phone in there always seems to have made a miraculous escape. This is their number one excuse – not because it’s the subtlest or smartest but because it involves virtually no real thought or effort to carry off. And for those who don’t like homework, that’s what it’s all about.

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams’s School in Thame, Oxfordshire

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Stephen Petty

Stephen Petty is head of humanities at Lord Williams's School in Thame, Oxfordshire. 

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