Homework Hell- A Necessary Evil?

This post came out of a Twitter conversation I inadvertently set off yesterday afternoon when I posted this comment

I hate it when my kid’s maths homework flummoxes me…I’m a teacher for goodness sake!

There then followed a pretty lively debate which questioned the relevance of homework and highlighted how stressful it can be for parent and child.

I understand the need for homework. I am happy to reinforce and consolidate work which has been done at school. I think that it is important as they get older to encourage the habit of personal time management and working to deadlines. I am not, however, happy when homework gets in the way of family life especially when that homework is pointless and purposeless or when my child clearly has no understanding of it and has his/her confidence undermined by it.

It is quality not quantity which is important in the setting of homework and it must be marked and commented on especially if a child has gone the extra mile and taken a topic and flown with it. This weekend my daughter had two pieces of homework. The first was numeracy (the new name for maths which is supposed to make it sound less scary) and she struggled with it but it had purpose, it was reinforcing the work she had done at school. The second was literacy (another new name; English to you and me!) and was, for her, pointless. She flew through it in no more than 2 minutes and, to be honest, it insulted her intelligence. She had 10 sentences with the connectives missing and she had a choice of two to fill the blank.

eg. The dog wanted to go for a walk……his owner was too busy. (but/then)

She has been reading since she was 3 and is now a voracious bookworm at 10.

Moving on to quantity. Often, too much homework is set. It gets in the way of family life and seems to assume that, once home, the children have nothing better to do after a 6-6.5 hour day than to do another couple of hours of work. This is as much or more than an adult working day! Children need time with their families, their friends and time to pursue interests outside school. We have had homework set on one day which is due in the next, which doesn’t take into account that we might have family commitments, or that the child in question may be back at school that evening performing in a school concert (!).

Assumptions also seem to be made about the level of support available at home. Not everyone is familiar with the mathematics curriculum, not everyone has internet access, not everyone has parents who are willing or able to sit down and help with homework. I AM willing and (usually) able but with three children requiring different levels of assistance and a 4-year-old needing help to build a train set/plant something in the garden/do some painting/read a story it is not always possible. Cue enormous amounts of stress and family friction!

Of course this is not all the school’s fault. Many parents would like to see more homework given and as @JfB57  said on Twitter yesterday

some parents seem to equate homework with high attainment. Has to be a purpose as u said!

(She is a retired headteacher, you can read her lovely blog here)

Some parents get very competitive about it and produce magnificent pieces of homework for with their child while the rest of us shuffle in through the school gates with a couple of scruffy pieces of paper or a bedraggled Easter bonnet.

So, where do you stand on this one? Do you want homework to be banned? Do your kids not get enough homework? Does it cause stress in your house? Did you really deserve an A+ for the last project you completed?

With thanks to @dotterel, @JfB57, @vwallop and @karamina who prompted this post.

Photo by Flickr user Cayusa


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26 responses to “Homework Hell- A Necessary Evil?

  1. alisonwells

    I totally agree. I have four children, three of whom have homework (ages 5,7 and 9). This, of course, is only the beginning. My eldest is extremely bright but gets anxious and lacks concentration and 30 mins of homework can stretch out across the entire evening (even though the school is aware & understands). What with a few afterschool classes (kept to a min), the requirements of the younger kids and a toddler, its already a great stressor. Goodness knows what it will be like as they grow older. I am a stay at home mum with a good university education, English is my forte and their Dad is good at maths. If its tough for us, what must it be like for others.

  2. I feel like I’m just starting to enter this world. Up to now the 8yos homework has been easy. Now it’s starting to challenge him and he’s suffering as a result. This week’s was fractions and he’s hit a brick wall. So I’ve sent him in to explain to his teacher that he can’t do it – he doesn’t understand my explanation and I don’t want to confuse him further. His literacy homework involved him using the internet – in a household where the main computer is my workstation, this creates obvious problems of time management. Personally I’m becoming increasingly anti-homework, I think they spend long enough at school from a very early age, why should it even be necessary. I agree with your sentiments and want to give my children the chance to enjoy a range of activities that are not all focussed on academic achievement. Can we ‘opt out’?


    • I wish we could opt out! I have told my children not to do some of it and have said I will send covering notes in to their teachers. Doing an Earth and Space project during the summer holidays while we were sailing and had no internet access rather took the biscuit.
      The problem has been that we have produced coscientious children who want to please (so far) and they get very stressy if they haven’t done what they see as ‘the right thing’ so they do the homework even when I would rather they didn’t.
      I would like to see it banned if I’m honest.

  3. My daughter is 10yo (Year6) and her primary school seem to have a really good balance to homework. She gets one lot of numeracy and one lot of literacy homework per week, which is always set on a Thursday and not due back until the following Tuesday. It never takes more than an hour – all in, so it doesn’t feel at all pressured and doesn’t eat into our family time.
    Our school also offer ‘homework skills lessons’ to parents so that we are better able to help our children at home. I’ve never felt it necessary myself but it is such a good thing for those parents who need help in supporting their child’s learning. The school also offer the use of their computers for children and parents to use the internet and there is of course the new government scheme for low income families to apply for help in buying their own laptop/internet connection which I think is such a good thing (if not abused of course!)
    Sorry, I’m rambling now aren’t I?! I think homework can be a good thing if there is balance – not too much too young etc. And I like to feel involved in what they are learning that week. Although I *must* stress that I am not one of the alpha-mummy types who actually do the homework for the child! Not at all! : )

    • It sounds like you have a school with a sensible attitude towards homework! When mine were younger it wasn’t so much of a problem, it’s as they are getting older it is beginning to impinge and it’s the pointlessness of it for the individual child that gets my goat.

  4. I would cheerfully get all homework banned. My own opinion is that kids are at school all day, and they are there to be taught. Outside of school they learn life skills and other normal things, they don’t need extra hours of schooling at home! Most homeschooling parents get through the curriculum in less time than schools….no home work there!

    Ban it I say!! ban the evil homework.

    • Let’s start a campaign! We need time with our kids to do the stuff there is no longer time for in the curriculum and (as you say) life skills and normal things. Hands off our children when they are at home they are ours! (and theirs, obviously!)

  5. Fascinating subject, best summed up (as you’ve done) by the phrase ‘quality not quantity’. One problem, of course, is the fact that the hidden agenda of homework is to establish regular independent study habits. Pity some teachers don’t appreciate that tasks set for the ‘sake of’ often have the opposite effect.

  6. As a school we know when the work has been the childs. Even when it comes to making Easter bonnets! We always judged things from the child & at times would dismiss ‘parent homework’!
    Thank you for the mention!

    • The schools are usually aware, I agree, and take parental over-involvement into account but, oh, the competitiveness at the school gate and the pressure to make your child seem like a child prodigy!

  7. I so never want to see any form of homework ever again!

    • We have enjoyed some of the project work. Visiting tudor houses, Victoria’s holiday home, doing a big poster explaining our vegetarian life style and drawing up our family tree have been fun it’s the endless mind numbing repetitive stuff I can’t bear and neither can they!

  8. My eldest goes up to secondary school in September. I feel home-work is important for him at this time simply to get him used to – like you say – working to a deadline, because he’s going to have plenty of those soon (poor thing.)

    But the primary school that my children go to even give the reception age children homework! I have told the teachers that I am not prepared to force a very small child to do their homework if they do not want to. They already spend the majority of their day at school. To be fair, the teachers have been fine with that.

    • I did find my children’s first school to be really supportive. They had a fab teacher in year 3 and 4 who fully appreciated that we did a lot at home and who allowed them to be individuals and independent learners. It’s as they’ve gone on that it has started to be an issue and it does make me want to shout; they need to come home and relax.

  9. Having had 4 children go through schooling, the youngest now at 6th form college taking her AS in Photography & resitting her GCSE English & Maths, I agree with Susie, I am very happy to see the last of homework! I always believed quality not quantity. Primary school homework, in my childrens time, struck a good balance, only about an hour a week, maybe its changed since then. GCSEs was when the stress started. They really had far, far too much coursework to contend with, on top of homework/revision, which was always open to cheating & being completed by parents (TD had friends who were quite happily boastful of the fact their parents had done their coursework for them!). Luckily, just before TDs GCSEs they dropped some of the coursework content in some subjects, and used ongoing assessment modules instead.

  10. my 6 y o is in year 1 and she is only expected to read to me for 10 minutes each night. even this is hard sometimes when juggling 2 kids plus tea & bedtime!

    she had extra homework at Easter and did it in about 5 minutes as she found it too easy…

    • It isn’t easy doing that juggle is it? Reading is so important and making time for that one is pretty crucial but finding a spare 10 mins with all those other demands can be tricky.

  11. My eldest is “only” in reception, so homework currently only means reading a couple of books a week. I must admit I am dreading what will happen when she does have more than this. As Becky said, juggling two kids and bed-time (especially when you work full-time 3 days a week) is hard enough at the moment.

    • Good luck! My youngest starts in reception in September so I will be starting it all over again! Luckily, this time I will have older kids who can help out so it should be less of a juggle…we’ll see!😉

  12. To date my most read post has been a (long) homework rant – and it got some interesting comments from teachers on Twitter… http://clinicallyfedup.com/?p=1778

  13. elleonthego

    It just makes me glad that I homeschool.
    I often wonder where I’d find the time to do all these things I want to do with my kids if they were at school all day, then had to do more work.
    Time flies as it is!
    Reinforcement is good as well as capturing their imagination and making them want to learn.
    Great post,

    • We seriously thought of homeschooling and I still sometimes wonder if it would be a good idea! Then I remember how selfish I am and enjoy the time to write when they are at school!
      Thanks for your comment.

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