What is the purpose of homework?


After receiving parental complaints that students were not getting any homework, our headteacher diarist decided to do a bit of digging...

On digging a bit deeper, I discovered that there was a widely held view among many parents that the school “did not set homework”.

I must admit that this was news to me, as from my perspective the school recognises the importance of regular homework and all staff are required to set appropriate homework. Was this another case where communication between the school and parents had broken down?

As is so often the case in school-parent communication, a critical factor is what the students are actually telling their parents. It is fair to say that this is perhaps not always the most reliable channel of communication. 

It is certainly possible that at least part of the reason for parents’ perception that homework is not being given stems from the fact that their children are being somewhat economical with the truth about how much homework they have to do. 

Having said that, we do publish details of homework on the website and so parents can check what homework is being set. However, I am sure that not all parents will look at this. 

Recently I attempted to circumvent this potential communication gap by contacting the parents of children who had failed to hand in a particular piece of homework on time. Within 24 hours I had received all the missing homework. Furthermore, for the next homework I set, I emailed all the parents just to alert them to the fact that their children had been set homework. 

The result was a 100 per cent return rate. So clearly, parents can (and will) ensure that their children do their homework provided that they know about it.

The other half of the homework equation is, of course, the staff. I think it is widely recognised that some staff are less than enthusiastic at setting homework because that inevitably means a set of books to mark. However, although homework is one way for a teacher to assess a student’s progress, it is not the only reason for setting homework. Homework should be used to reinforce learning in the classroom, as well as giving students the opportunity for independent learning and to develop research skills. It follows that not all homework assignments necessarily need to result in a pile of books for marking. 

What is important is establishing an effective system to ensure both that staff set regular homework and that the students complete and return it on time. 

Systems can be put in place to monitor what homework is set and so, at least in theory, it should be relatively straight-forward to ensure that sufficient homework is set.

Alerting parents to what homework is set, and when it is to be handed in, means that parents are fully aware of the homework that can be expected and can ensure that it is submitted on time.

Homework is a critical part of delivering the curriculum and needs to be treated as such. It is not an optional extra (for either staff or students!). Used effectively it can aid students’ understanding of a subject, allow students to explore certain aspects of the subject in a bit more depth, and develop students’ research skills. 

More importantly, however, setting homework is one of the main ways in which a school can instil a sense of self-motivation in its students and a recognition that school work is done both at school and at home. 

The really successful students will be those who put in the hours at home as well as at school. Setting regular homework right from the start of year 7 is vital if we are to create a work ethic in students that encompasses both work undertaken at school and work done at home.

  • Diary of a headteacher is written anonymously and in rotation by three practising headteachers from schools across the country.


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