Is homework worth the pain?

Early today, @positivteacha sent this tweet.

Amen! Who of us could honestly say we haven’t felt like this?

Homework is a pain. It’s difficult to set, fiddly to track and it increases workload for teachers. If pupils aren’t well behaved in lessons worrying about how hard they are working outside them is a waste of time.

We could go further. There is a line of argument that goes we shouldn’t set homework at all, as doing so is an intrusion on valuable family time, especially for those who work long hours.

Perhaps we should just scrap it.

Except that if we did it is our most disadvantaged young people who would lose out.

If schools stopped setting homework the most privileged of our young people would continue to do it because their parents, understanding the competitive nature of schooling, would insist. Even if privileged parents, perhaps out of a sense of astonishing altruism, agreed not to set their children homework then they would still be providing their own offspring with a wider range of learning experiences than many poorer parents would be able to do. The net result of not setting homework would be a widening – as it if weren’t wide enough already – achievement gap between rich and poor.

So I while I absolutely agree homework is a pain in the backside I don’t think we can stop setting it.

At the Nuneaton Academy we have thought hard about how best to square this circle, and I’d like to use the rest of this post to explain the principles we use to set and track homework.

Principle 1: Homework must be efficient and useful

We absolutely insist that homework teachers set is tangibly useful to pupils and their parents. If it is impossible to see how the work helps the child improve then we open ourselves to accusations it is pointless and being set for the sake of it. We do not set cereal box projects or art work for subjects which are not art.

Our teachers set the quickest and least fussy methods to get the job done, and understand short and regular is much better than long involved pieces that are only irregularly set and very often left to the last minute.

Family time is precious, especially for parents working long hours, and we understand any intrusion into it must be worth the pain.

Principle 2: Homework must be clear and doable.

Vague homework is a big cause of pre-bedtime stress and tears. We do not set homework that involves googling or researching things and we do not set homework that assumes there is a knowledgeable adult there to help. We also insist pupils have the resources they need to do the work they are asked to, be this a revision guide, booklet or knowledge organiser. For us homework is often to self-quiz before a test, or to complete an extended piece of writing based on guidance in a booklet. We also love setting practise as homework, which might be work on multiplication or freehand sketching. All our homework is set on a great app called MILK, which means parents as well as pupils can see what has been set.

Principle 3: Centralise tracking

Perhaps the most significant reason systems in schools collapse is the burden of maintenance becomes so great teachers stop using them. This is as true of homework as it is of behaviour. If teachers have to ring home for all homework not completed, or even worse set detentions they have to personally run, then pretty soon teachers will stop recording when it isn’t done and eventually they may stop setting it at all.

At TNA tracking of homework is centralised. All teachers have to do is right click on the pupils’ name on SIMS and select a ‘no homework’ option from a drop down box. There work is then done.

Once a fortnight we the run a report on a specific year group. The parents of any child with more than one ‘no homework’ gets a letter and a text message informing them, and asking for their support in making sure this doesn’t happen again. The letter also invites parents to let us know if there are reasons it is hard for their child to do work at home and making it clear we will work with them to sort the issues where we can – in the past this has meant space in the library after school, and signing out of laptops for those who need them.

If pupils continue to leave homework undone despite parents being written to then we may call home or invite parents in for a meeting. We have not chosen to sanction non completion of homework with detentions so far – this is because in the past I’ve found this usually creates brand new problems, including copying of each other and rushed huddles of children scrawling on paper in the corridor before and between lessons to avoid a punishment, which defeats the whole point of the exercise.

Finally we talk constantly about why homework is so important. We run assemblies on it. We ask pupils every morning what they’ve done as they come in and we ask them what they’ll do every day as they walk out. We tell them their homework should be useful and if they don’t think a task has been useful we ask them to tell us why.

Homework isn’t a lot of fun. We know it can be hard to get done.

We also love our children enough to feel – done properly – it is worth the pain.



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