If there is a bigger pain in the backside in the primary setting than homework, I have yet to encounter it. Yes there are cheeky pupils, work to be marked, lessons to be observed, books to be scrutinised and God only knows what else! However, seldom has such a simple issue divided so many practitioners and parents.
At the beginning of each academic year, the various year groups in our school has a coffee morning with the parents. As we are quite a large school it offers us a chance to meet the parents and set our expectations. I dread this annual event more than any other, mainly because the topic of homework always dominates proceedings. And parents can never agree on how the policy should be implemented. For years now, we have tried to find a happy medium. One year we set two English and maths activities each week, set spellings and asked pupils to read nightly to an adult. However this was eventually deemed by the majority to be too much to expect of a young child (and I whole-heartedly agreed!) Then we limited it to spellings, a maths activity and reading but many complained we weren’t giving them enough. Now we give one maths, one English, spellings, reading and an optional half-termly project to complete. However some still complain it is too little; some complain it is too much!
From a teaching perspective it is a nightmare. I would hope that homework would be a chance to consolidate prior learning in the classroom. However in the classroom their work is differentiated and supported, so am I to differentiate and support homework? Where does the time come from to do that? The support given to pupils at home also often varies from household to household and many parents avoid the parent calculation meetings and policies like the plague so maths is often completed every-which-way but the method pupils were taught in school, confusing the poor blighters beyond description. The weekly chore of checking who has their homework in, who has partially completed it, who will bring it in late, who has done the work incorrectly and who will need support in school to complete the homework seems never ending. Marking it all in one evening and having new homework for the next day only adds to the 101 other things I have to do. In fact, marking is usually ends up becoming a ‘tick job’ which isn’t nearly as supportive for the pupils as it should be. I know this, but I simply don’t have the time or resources to do anything meaningful about it.
It has all got me thinking. Who is really benefiting from homework? In 2012 Michael Gove disposed of the Homework Guidelines previously set out by the Labour government. This allows Headteachers to set out their own agreed homework policies with the parents. Is there a grounds for a discussion on the place of homework in primary school, particularly in KS1/Lower KS2? Is it worth the hassle? Should we persist and continue with the arrangements we have in schools?
All I know for certain is we shall be damned if we do; damned if we don’t!