Should schools still set homework? 

Published 12th March 2019 by Frog Education

The ‘should schools be setting homework?’ debate is age-old and well-trodden, offering different opinions from pupils, teachers, parents, educational specialists and even neurologists. Is homework bad for your health? Is it a waste of time? What are the benefits of homework? Can it make you smarter? Just a few of the questions that frequently recur when asking whether schools should still be setting homework.    

Is homework a waste of time?

It’s understandable why some pupils regard homework as punishment. For them, out of school hours is free time and homework encroaches on that. Steals it away, never to be regained for activities they would prefer to do. An example of one pupil’s view is given in their online petition asking the government to ban homework. The secondary school student argues that teachers get a weekend so it is unfair to ask children to work out of school hours.

But is that true? Are our teachers free from work at the weekend? Recent figures would suggest not. The 2018 Global Teacher Status Index (GTSI) polled 35 countries and found that British teachers are working some of the longest hours; around 51 hours a week. And it’s not just the homework-hating-petition-making pupil that underestimates a teacher’s workload. A recent TES article on the study explains that the British public underrated the number of hours a teacher works by a “whole school day less per week”. Meaning many teachers will rely on evenings and weekends to squeeze that extra day into their working week.

The notion that homework is an additional burden on overloaded teachers was reinforced in 2016, when the principle at Philip Morant School and College banned homework to free up teachers’ time to plan better lessons. “School bans homework” makes a great headline but what the school actually proposed was for pupils to choose the work they do at home. The school recognises the requirement for continued out-of-school learning but suggests little value was placed on the way homework was previously set and marked. Indicating they felt it was an inefficient use of teachers’ time.   

Does homework make you ill?

Whether children consider homework as fair or a punishment, or teachers feel their time could be spent more effectively, there is a more serious element to consider. Is homework actually damaging student health? The well-cited Stanford research showed a correlation between excessive homework and children’s physical health. Over half the pupils interviewed in the study attributed homework as one of the biggest stress factors in their lives. 

So, if homework is potentially bad for health, pupils regard it as punishment and it adds to the workload stress for teachers, why do the majority of both secondary and primary schools set and abide by a homework policy?

Should students set their own homework?

For Maurice Elias, Professor of Psychology and a specialist in emotional intelligence in students, asking whether homework should be banned is the wrong question. Instead, we should be thinking about how we can ensure students retain what they have learned and are “primed to learn more”. He argues children need to understand life will expect them to always be learners which is why he is against the setting of no homework policies; “It sends the wrong message. The policy should be, ‘No time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks will be assigned that lack clear instructional or learning purposes.’” He prefers the terms ‘continued learning’ or ‘ongoing growth activities’ indicating a more student-led approach to out-of-school learning.

In place of the nightly confrontation we have with our children to determine what has been set, will we be asking ‘what are your plans for ongoing growth activity this evening?’

Which leads to an important consideration of the role of parents in home learning. The response to the Philip Morant School and College’s decision to replace set homework with an innovative self-learning approach triggered a parent-led revolt. Their main argument being that the “random” tasks assigned were considered voluntary by students and parents were concerned their children were “slacking”. So, instead of fostering independence and self-motivation in students, did the new policy just shift the responsibility of setting homework from the teacher to parents; who now have to police their child’s out of school learning?

With over 70% of UK families with both parents in work and almost half of these families with both parents working full-time, it is surely unrealistic to expect them to take on this additional accountability in their child’s education. Is this maybe the more likely reason for the parents’ concern and the root of their opposition?

Regardless of the reason, parent power won and in 2018 the school re-introduced the more structured approach of compulsory homework set and marked by teachers. This unsuccessful experiment may have been avoided if they’d consulted with Prof. John Hattie. His comprehensive studies into what makes for effective learning in schools has earned him the reputation as one of the most influential education academics. He told the BBC’s Sarah Montague in an interview that “the worst thing you can do with homework is give kids projects” and actually reinforcing what they have already learned is the best approach.

Can E
dTech help make homework benefit all

If we can agree that homework helps develop a lifelong habit of independent learning and reinforces what is learned in school, then the setting of compulsory homework still has its place in the majority of schools today. But there is certainly a balance to be struck. One where the benefits of home learning are not outweighed by the time-intensity of setting, marking and completing the tasks.  

With the rise of edtech in schools and the adoption of 3rd party home learning solutions that set and mark curriculum-based tasks, can the way be paved for a future where homework serves the teacher, the pupils and the parents?

Today, home learning software means that with a few clicks or tablet taps from the teacher, pre-built content can be selected, assigned and digitally distributed to pupils. This certainly reduces time spent creating homework and restores lesson time for teaching rather than the setting of homework.

Once the tasks are completed, the software automatically marks and provides feedback. A TES article on teacher’s workload cited a 2016 Canvas VLE report which found over half of UK teachers said time spent on marking negatively impacted time with pupils in the classroom. So, taking the marking element off teacher’s shoulders is a valuable benefit to both pupils and teachers.

It continues that 78% of UK teachers point to the increasing need for continual tracking of pupil performance as making the situation worse. With homework management software providing instant feedback and data, teachers can now quickly gauge how well the class have absorbed the knowledge (helping them evaluate the effectiveness of their lesson or even plan future lessons), and identify if there are individuals that need additional help with a subject.

Immediate feedback is also relayed to the pupil; providing them with insight on where they may need to further their knowledge or understanding of the subject. And of course, parents can have full visibility of their child’s homework tasks, safe in the knowledge that no-one is slacking.  

In consideration of pupils’ home learning needs, teachers’ workloads, the increasing requirement for feedback and data in schools, and everyone’s time in general, can these edtech solutions help homework become the effective learning method it was always meant to be?

Frog's Homework Solution

If you'd like to see better results from homework and independent learning, you should see HomeLearning in action! 

- Set and mark online and offline homework in seconds
- Access 300,000 curriculum-mapped quizzes using FrogPlay
- Track homework setting and completions in MarkBook
- Provide full visibility for parents, leaders, staff and pupils
- Encourage independent learning


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