Homework is a lot like Marmite among parents – they either love it or hate it.
The matter of whether primary school children should be made to do it has been a matter of intense debate recently after TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp urged parents to skip doing homework tasks with their children.
“There is nothing better for children than spending time with you, talking, doing and learning at the same time,” she tweeted. “Following a recipe is reading, maths, science and fine motor skills in one activity.”
In a separate tweet, she revealed one of her “greatest regrets” was that she didn’t stop her kids from doing their homework. “The tears, the time together lost, for many families homework causes real, daily unhappiness to no good end,” she added.
Her comments come after the Irish president Michael D Higgins suggested homework should be banned in the country, saying work should “get finished at the school and people should be able to use their time for other creative things”.
A reduced emphasis on homework is something that’s been adopted in Finland, where – interestingly – the country ranks sixth place for reading and 12th for maths, compared to the UK which ranks 23rd and 26th respectively, the BBC reported. (It’s also worth noting that Finland is apparently the happiest country in the world.)
However many parents argue that 10 minutes of reading or maths here and there isn’t going to hurt. Plus, it helps ready children for self-learning when they reach secondary school.
Homework policies in the UK differ between primary schools, however it’s generally expected that children should be doing some form of home learning each week – whether reading, practising spelling or learning their times tables.
HuffPost UK asked parents and teachers whether they thought homework should be scrapped for young children. Here’s what they said.
‘I like homework as it lets me see what my children are doing’
Rhea Freeman, who has two seven-year-olds, says she is a fan of “a little bit of homework” because it allows parents to keep track of what their children are doing at school and also helps them progress.
“The teaching day is packed,” she adds, “and if we can do a bit to help with things like learning spellings at the weekends, then surely that’s a positive?”
She notes, however, that excessive homework isn’t needed. “The school day is busy and if they’re having to do an hour’s extra work every night, that’s a lot and could well extinguish any love of learning, particularly if children don’t find it easy,” she adds.
Reading and spellings or times tables are “great” homework activities, says the mum-of-two, noting it should only really take about 10-20 minutes. “My children are very up for that and there’s still plenty of time for them to play and relax after the day,” adds the 38-year-old business coach and mentor.
‘Refusing to do homework is a bit of a privilege’
Mum-of-two Claire Quansah is pro-homework as long as it’s appropriate and relevant, “as it helps children to apply and solidify their learning”.
The 40-year-old, who has two sons aged seven and 14, says “refusing to do homework is a bit of a privilege”.
“I have two sons and I’m sure the impact of young Black boys refusing homework would be very different to their peers,” she says. “They already have enough to contend with.”
Quansah is a firm believer that homework can help children – and adults – to see if they’ve really understood what they’ve learned that day and how to use it in a different setting.
Like Freeman, she’s also keen to know what her children are currently learning at school, “because based on what my seven-year-old says, all they do each day is play football and eat”.
‘It has to be the right kind of homework’
“Homework is an incredibly useful way of consolidating children’s learning – but it has to be the right kind of homework,” says mum Anna Masterson, who has three children aged six, eight and nine.
If the task is too general, time-consuming or simply not linked to what’s being taught in the classroom, it’s unlikely to provide any real benefit, adds Masterson, who is also chief learning officer at Atom Learning and a primary school teacher with over a decade of experience.
“Research tells us that homework tasks that are linked to what’s being covered in school are much more effective. Likewise, there’s a lot of evidence to suggest that the impact of homework diminishes as the amount of time pupils spend on it increases, so timed exercises are often preferable.”
Homework is beneficial because there are some things that teachers just can’t fit into everyday schooling, she adds, offering the example that children in Key Stage 1 should be reading aloud to an adult each day to develop their fluency.
“Ultimately, parents should be discerning about their child’s homework tasks and approach the time they spend on each strategically,” she says.
It’s important to remember not all homework is of equal value. “There’s a lot to be gained from completing a worksheet with 10 maths questions on a single learning objective that’s already been introduced at school, for example, but less in a seemingly endless research task, like, say, researching and building a castle,” she suggests.
One parent who knows this all too well is dad-of-four Simon Harris, 39, from South Essex. Harris – a blogger known as Man Behaving Dadly – is in favour of banning homework when it is “massively time consuming” and ultimately a “parental contest to make huge art projects”.
“I’ve seen these spiral out of control,” says Harris whose children are one, four, six and eight. “Seriously. Half the time the kids haven’t been anywhere near the bloody things.”
‘We have a no homework policy’
Two of Georgina Fuller’s three children are at primary school. The 45-year-old from Oxfordshire says they have a “no homework policy” in the house for the younger two, aged eight and 10.
“We did try and do it for a couple of years but found sitting down on the weekend to log into Teams, printing off worksheets and trying to make bug hotels was eating into our family time and causing unnecessary stress,” she tells HuffPost UK.
On top of that, her 10-year-old is autistic “and couldn’t see how or why he should be made to do school work at home,” she adds. “So we essentially gave up on it.”
Asked how the school responded to this decision, Fuller said they were fine about her middle child when she explained the “battles” they faced at home.
“There was no big announcement with my eight-year-old daughter’s teachers,” she adds. “I just told them that I made sure we read for half an hour a night instead and prioritised that over homework. That seemed to be acceptable and we haven’t had any sort of backlash.”
She does note that homework is useful for secondary school pupils. Studies have shown homework has a positive impact on pupils in secondary schools.
Her eldest child, who is 13 and at a grammar school, takes responsibility for his own homework and does most of it on an app. “I occasionally help him out but he mostly just gets on with it by himself,” she adds.
‘I’m keen my children don’t learn the habit of working at home after work’
Sarah Vaughan, a mum to three autistic children – two of whom are aged eight and nine, and are at primary school – says traditional homework is, in her experience, “often an extremely stressful and distressing activity” for her children.
“So much so, that they rarely do any because they need a break from school and home is a safe space,” says Vaughan, who is based in Kent.
The qualified teacher, who now works as a holistic therapist, says learning does happen at home all the time, but she “follows the interests of her children”.
With many of us falling guilty to working at home after work as adults, Vaughan is keen that her children don’t learn this habit.
“I see so many adults who do extra unpaid work at home, after their work day has ended – especially teachers – and this cultivates a culture where we push ourselves beyond our limits to please our employers,” she says. “There are no boundaries between home and work. This is not healthy.”
She caveats that there are some children and families who enjoy homework, “so maybe a good solution, rather than a ban, is providing interesting optional activities that children can complete at home if they wish.”