Homework is an essential part of school life and encourages our children to think independently as well as instilling a love of learning. Lesley Finlay investigates further...
Watch television’ may appear to be an odd piece of advice for parents seeking to support children with their homework, but there it is, in a government leaflet of Top Ten Homework Tips – straight in at number five. Why? you may rightly ask. The answer is that television programmes can prompt discussion and debate, and before your brood decides to use this as a ticket to increase their time in front of the screen in the corner of the room, there is a proviso: ‘Make sure TV time is a set time and that it does not get in the way of study time. Make TV a treat for progress rather than a background feature.’ The other surprising fact about homework is that despite snippets in the news about some schools abandoning home study time in the spirit of work/life balance, it is a firm feature of government recommendations – from Year 1. Anyone with a child starting school this month should catch the wave of enthusiasm of being ‘a big school boy or girl now’ and encourage a set time for reading or squiggle (writing) practice, after a home time snack and play. This way, you are training your child into good habits, so that by the time the serious work starts, homework is part of the school term routine.
For our little ones in their oversized uniforms, what homework can we expect? A little reading with a parent or carer (note the ‘with’!) as well as some informal games to practise mathematical skills – and no more than one and a half hours a week up to Year 4 are the sensible guidelines. As we move into Years 5 and 6, life gets a little more serious. Roger Kidney is the deputy head of Dulwich Preparatory School in Cranbrook. He told the Wealden Times: ‘Our Year 5s will get one prep a night – it might take them up to 45 minutes. There would be occasions where teachers are reinforcing the lesson, or pupils might be asked to do their own research, for example, in maths I might ask them to find out about a famous British mathematician. They would probably research this on a computer and present it in their own way. Our Year 6 might get two at the weekend and one a night, sometimes two, and this increases slightly as the pupils move up the school.’ Life gets more serious at secondary school – with responsibility for homework resting on the student’s shoulders. Harriet Poulter is 15 and attends Angley School in Cranbrook. As she moves into her GCSE year, she has learned to settle into a routine and to understand the value of homework. Harriet told us: ‘I normally do my homework in the kitchen because it is quiet. Although people walk through the room, I like this - and I can ask for help, occasionally, if I need it.’ Angley School gives its students a homework timetable, and guided times – setting out clearly the expectation and that this is an important part of school life. Homework should be relevant to the scheme of work being studied – or you will quickly turn off even the most conscientious student. Harriet said: ‘I get one piece per week for each subject except for Maths and Science, when I might get two.
Each piece is supposed to take about half an hour to 40 minutes, but sometimes it takes longer. During exam time I will do as much revision as I need, and whatever time it takes. Teachers might help by giving website addresses that will help us. ‘It is annoying sometimes when we get homework that has nothing to do with what we are learning in class. We have homework to show what we have learned in class and to help us in exams and coursework. I definitely think young people should do homework although it should be linked with stuff you’ve done in class.’ As for when and where, that will depend on the child, space available and also equipment. Harriet said: ‘I prefer to have a bit of a rest first and a snack before I do my homework.’ Manon, Mr Kidney’s 15-year-old daughter, agrees: ‘Yes, definitely have a snack and chill out first!’ This is echoed in the prep system for boarders at Dulwich. Mr Kidney says: ‘We have set up a model for boarders that seems to work. We offer after-school prep in the library - our children are fairly independent and get on and do it. That’s part of the aim. There is flexi boarding at Dulwich so after school they will play, then have some tea and do their prep between six and seven.’ How far should the parent become involved in their child’s homework routine? Mr Kidney says: ‘Each child is different and most children try to just get on with it themselves.
As a parent, that’s how I would read it at home. So if my daughters Roxanne or Manon need help then they would ask advice of us. I always suggest pupils ask their parents for help and support.’ Parents should ask out of interest what the student is studying and be available to offer help and guidance, if necessary. Manon says: ‘Try to find a time when your parents are not trying to multi task in the kitchen because they will be too distracted to help you.’ You might also encourage your child to ask advice from their teacher if they do not understand the task they have been set. Harriet said: ‘I will ask if I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing, or I don’t understand the subject. Teachers don’t mind helping you.’ And what happens if homework doesn’t get done? At Angley, Harriet says, you’ll get warnings and if this continues you’ll get a phone call home or a detention. Any issues at Dulwich are raised through the prep book, which is signed by parents, and countersigned by the teacher in the morning. ‘It’s very much part of the education here. Most of the children get their prep in on time – they know what their teachers’ expectations are – some might want the work in next day, or I’m happy for it to come in at the next lesson. If they have a problem the parent will write in the prep book, and acknowledge it.’ And for those parents who despair of their children’s commitment to schoolwork, here is a last word from Harriet that shows enjoyment of a subject leads to independent study: ‘I will sometimes assign myself homework for graphic design – it’s useful to draft designs at home and this makes classwork easier.’ That’s music to the ears of any parent!
For further information about government guidelines, and for useful tips, including the Top 10 Tips for Homework survival, visit www.education.gov.uk