Yet again, we find ourselves in another heated homework debate. It’s almost impossible to scroll through social media without stumbling across an angry article that points the finger of blame at homework for student anxiety, stress, obesity or for ruining family dynamics.
Most recently, Spanish parents set up a poll calling for it to be banned, which of course, has opened up the floodgates for critics to further try and tarnish the name of homework. The problem with situations like this, is that it’s easy to jump on the bandwagon armed with a click bait headline and misinformed opinions and take the subject matter completely out of context.
The Spanish parents in question here are reacting to excessive amounts of homework being set for their children at primary level. This is a slightly more difficult conversation to broach as there is no direct correlation between homework and higher attainment at primary school, so there are fewer facts and figures to counter with.
What we can say about homework at this level is that it helps to strengthen relationships between parent and child, as well as parent and teacher, increasing parental engagement, which in turn has a positive impact on a child’s school life. Not only this, but it helps to promote student independence and better prepares them for the transition to secondary school where homework does have a proven positive impact on academic performance.
I can empathise with the frustrations that parents of younger children have with regards to homework, especially when large quantities are being thrown at their children causing stress and anxiety, and little to no results come from the time invested in completing it. The parents at the school in Spain do have a valid argument, and I do not wish to take away from that, but what frustrates me is when I see these headlines claiming that all homework is pointless.
These articles don’t tend to focus on the age of the children being set homework, the type of tasks assigned or the school's homework policy, and this in turn leads people to believe that homework, even at secondary level, isn’t worthwhile. In fact, it has been proven that when set at secondary level, outside of promoting healthy relationships between student, parents and teacher, homework does help to improve academic outcomes.
The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) have found that homework at secondary level adds an additional 5 months’ progress onto a student’s learning. There has been extensive research conducted surrounding homework due to the marmite effect is has on educators, we have even conducted our own research surrounding the importance of it which you can read in full here.
Prominent educator John Hattie has also weighed in on the debate, and found that homework can improve the rate of learning by 15% which is equal to advancing learning by about a year. He also found that the average achievement of a child who completed homework over those who did not, exceeded the latter by up to 62%.
That being said, I want to make it clear that I do not condone the setting of excessive amounts of homework - as with most things in life, moderation is key. It should not be set in excess and the work that is set, should be purposeful. It’s so easy to criticise homework, yet what’s confusing is that it actually isn’t difficult to see the benefits of it.
I’ve somewhat accepted that there will continue to be debate and discussion surrounding homework and its value, that I will have to grin and bear - my company is living proof that it is worthwhile and has a significant impact on a school’s overall performance. Although, what I do find hard to come to terms with is the effect that homework shaming can have on students, parents and even teachers.
Continually attacking homework can have a profound affect on a student’s opinion of it. At secondary school especially, there are of course a hundred other things that most students will want to be doing instead - debates such as these give them ammunition to push back on completion of their work.
It also adds fuel to the fire when it comes to parents, again, homework may not be on their list of favourite things, they’d much rather their child spend quality time with them, or be out enjoying fresh air. These headlines mean that parents have even more reason to not support the setting of homework, and for teachers, when there is a backlash such as this, it can make them apprehensive when setting tasks - regardless of if the work they are setting is worthwhile and fair.
What strikes a chord for me the most, is that the biggest complaint surrounding homework is that it takes away from a student’s childhood - eats into time they should spend playing, enjoying fresh air and spending time with their family. I do not deny that these are highly important factors when growing up and help to shape the person they become, but I do stand by the fact that schoolwork and homework is not designed to take away from these precious moments. Just as much as play and family time are fundamental to shaping a person, so is learning to manage your time, prioritising tasks and realising that you can’t do everything. These are important life lessons that need to be taught and learnt, and I wholeheartedly believe that the setting and completion of homework helps to reinforce this.