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The Great British Homework Debate 2023 – Is It Necessary At Primary School?

Alexander athienitis.

The homework debate is never much out of the news. Should homework be banned? Is homework at primary school a waste of time? Do our children get too much homework?

Not long ago, UK-based US comedian Rob Delaney set the world alight with a tweet giving his own personal view of homework at primary school. We thought, as an organisation that provides maths homework support on a weekly basis, it was time to look at the facts around the homework debate in primary schools as well as, of course, reflecting the views of celebrities and those perhaps more qualified to offer an opinion!

Here’s how Rob Delaney kicked things off

Rob Delaney's Homework Debate Tweet

Gary Lineker leant his support with the following soundbite:

Gary Lineker's Homework Debate Tweet

And even Piers Morgan weighed in, with his usual balance of tact and sensitivity:

Piers Morgan had more to say on the homework debate

A very experienced and knowledgeable Headteacher, Simon Smith, who has a well-earned following on Twitter (for someone working in education, not hosting Match of the Day) also put his neck on the line and, some might think controversially, agreed with the golden-heeled Crisp King of Leicester…

Simon Smith (Headteacher)'s Tweet On The Homework Debate

Fortunately Katharine Birbalsingh, Conservative Party Conference keynote speaker and Founding Headteacher of the Michaela School, was on hand to provide the alternative view on the importance of homework. Her op-ed piece in the Sun gave plenty of reasons why homework should not be banned.

She was informative and firm in her article stating: “Homework is essential for a child’s education because revisiting the day’s learning is what helps to make it stick.”

Katharine Birbalsingh, Headteacher, Michaela Community School waded in on the homework debate too.

KS2 Maths Games and Activities Pack

A FREE downloadable games and activity pack, including 20 home learning maths activities for KS2 children to complete on their own or with a partner.

How much homework do UK primary school children get?

Sadly, there’s little data comparing how much homework primary school-aged children in the UK and across the globe complete on a weekly basis. A study of teenagers used by The Telegraph shows that American high-schoolers spend an average of 6.1 hours per week compared with 4.9 hours per week of homework each week for UK-based teens.

Up until 2012, the Department of Education recommended an hour of homework a week for primary school Key Stage 1 children (aged 4 to 7) and half an hour a day for primary school Key Stage 2 children (aged 7-11). Many primary schools still use this as a guideline.

Teachers, parents and children in many schools across the land have seen more changes of homework policy than numbers of terms in some school years.

A ‘no-homework’ policy pleases only a few; a grid of creative tasks crowd-sourced from the three teachers bothered to give their input infuriates many (parents, teachers and children alike). For some parents, no matter how much homework is set, it’s never enough; for others, even asking them to fill in their child’s reading record once a week can be a struggle due to a busy working life.

Homework is very different around the world

We’d suggest that Piers Morgan’s argument for homework in comparing the UK’s economic and social progress with China’s in recent years based on total weekly homework hours is somewhat misguided – we can’t put their emergence as the world’s (if not already, soon to be) leading superpower exclusively down to having their young people endure almost triple the number of hours spent completing homework as their Western counterparts.

Nonetheless, there’s certainly a finer balance to strike between the 14 hours a week suffered by Shanghainese school-attendees and none whatsoever. Certainly parents in the UK spend less time each week helping their children than parents in emerging economies such as India, Vietnam and Colombia (Source: Varkey Foundation Report).

Disadvantages of homework at primary school

Delaney, whose son attends a London state primary school, has made it plain that he thinks his kids get given too much homework and he’d rather have them following more active or creative pursuits: drawing or playing football. A father of four sons and a retired professional footballer Gary Linaker was quick to defend this but he also has the resources to send his children to top boarding schools which generally provide very structured homework or ‘prep’ routines.

As parents Rob and Gary are not alone. According to the 2018 Ofsted annual report on Parents Views  more than a third of parents do not think homework in primary school is helpful to their children. They cite the battles and arguments it causes not to mention the specific challenges it presents to families with SEND children many of whom report serious damage to health and self-esteem as a result of too much or inappropriate homework.

It’s a truism among teachers that some types of homework tells you very little about what the child can achieve and much more about a parent’s own approach to the work. How low does your heart sink when your child comes back with a D & T project to create Stonehenge and you realise it’s either an all-nighter with glue, cardboard and crayons for you, or an uncompleted homework project for your child!

This tweet on the homework debate showed off the fun side of primary homework

Speaking with our teacher hats on, we can tell you that homework is often cited in academic studies looking at academic progress in primary school-aged children as showing minimal to no impact.

Back on Twitter, a fellow teacher was able to weigh-in with that point:

Ed Finch tweeted on the homework debate

Benefits of homework at primary school

So what are the benefits of homework at primary school? According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) (the key research organisations dedicated to breaking the link between family income and educational achievement) the impact of homework at primary is low, but it also doesn’t cost much.

They put it at a “+2 months” impact against a control of doing nothing. To put this into context, 1-to-1 tuition is generally seen as a +5 months impact but it’s usually considered to be expensive.

“There is some evidence that when homework is used as a short and focused intervention it can be effective in improving students’ attainment … overall the general benefits are likely to be modest if homework is more routinely set.”

Key to the benefit you’ll see from homework is that the task is appropriate and of good quality. The quantity of homework a pupil does is not so important. In this matter Katharine Birbalsingh is on the money. Short focused tasks which relate directly to what is being taught, and which are built upon in school, are likely to be more effective than regular daily homework.

In our view it’s about consolidation. So focusing on a few times tables that you find tricky or working through questions similar to what you’ve done in class that day or week often can be beneficial. 2 hours of worksheets on a Saturday when your child could be outside having fun and making friends probably isn’t. If you really want them to be doing maths, then do some outdoor maths with them instead of homework !

At Third Space Learning we believe it’s all about balance. Give the right sort of homework and the right amount at primary school and there will be improvements, but much of it comes down to parental engagement.

One of our favourite ways to practise maths at home without it become too onerous is by using educational games. Here are our favourite fun maths games , some brilliant KS2 maths games , KS1 maths games and KS3 maths games for all maths topics and then a set of 35 times tables games which are ideal for interspersing with your regular times tables practice. And best of all, most of them require no more equipment than a pen and paper or perhaps a pack of cards.

Homework and parents

One of the key benefits cited by EEF is in regard to parental engagement. Time after time, the greatest differentiator between children who make great progress at school – and those, frankly – who don’t is due to the same factor in the same studies: parental engagement .

It is a fair assumption that if a parent is engaged in their child’s learning, they’re probably going to be the same parents who encourage and support their child when they’re completing their homework.

Whereas parents who are disengaged with their child’s school and schooling – for whatever reason (sorry, Piers, it’s rarely due to laziness), are highly unlikely to be aware of what homework gets set each week, let alone to be mucking in with making sure it gets handed in completed and on time.

We also encounter time and again, the issue of parents’ own lack of confidence in maths. A survey by Pearson found that:

  • 30 percent of parents “don’t feel confident enough in their own maths skills to help their children with their primary school maths homework”
  • 53 per cent insisted they struggled to understand the new maths teaching methods used in modern classrooms. Fortunately that’s what we’re here to address.

Setting the right homework at primary school can be tricky

Although we disagree with Piers, we can see what he may be driving at in terms of setting appropriate homework.

Piers Morgan had strong opinions on the homework debate

The question quickly becomes what would Piers think of as being ‘interesting’ homework, and if all four of his children would agree upon the same thing being ‘interesting’.

That’s the problem.

One would imagine Piers would find it hard enough finding one task to satisfy the interest of all of his four children – it’s almost impossible to find a task that will engage the interest of 30 or more children in their out of school hours.

Each with different emotional, behavioural and learning needs, then sprinkle in the varying levels of poverty each family suffers (be it financial or in terms of time), and you can see how it isn’t just about being a good or bad teacher – whatever that means – in regards to being able to set Morgan-approved homework tasks.

What does this mean for my child?

Ultimately, the question at the top of mind whenever a parent thinks about homework is a more general one – am I doing the best for my child?

Although the world is changing at a faster pace than ever before in human history, what’s best for children hasn’t changed that much (if at all).

One-to-one support is best, and young people benefit most from adult-child conversations where they acquire new vocabulary and language structures to form and share their thoughts and opinions.

These insights – that one-to-one support is best and that regular, structured adult-child conversations are life-changing within a child’s development – are what inspired us to create Third Space Learning.

A platform where children can engage with a community of specialist tutors in a safe, structured learning environment where they are able to engage in one-to-one conversations that enable them to progress in their learning with confidence.

SATs revision lesson slide

  • How to help your child with their maths homework – A parents guide
  • The Best Homework Hacks: 18 Tips And Tricks To Help Busy Parents Get It Done Faster!
  • The 20 Most Recommended Teaching Blogs for UK Teachers and School Leaders

Online 1-to-1 maths lessons trusted by schools and teachers Every week Third Space Learning’s maths specialist tutors support thousands of primary school children with weekly online 1-to-1 lessons and maths interventions . Since 2013 we’ve helped over 150,000 children become more confident, able mathematicians. Learn more or request a personalised quote to speak to us about your needs and how we can help.

Subsidised one to one maths tutoring from the UK’s most affordable DfE-approved one to one tutoring provider.

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NEWS • 13 May 2022

Primary school children get little academic benefit from homework

Paul Hopkins , Lecturer and Researcher in Education, on the usefulness of homework for primary school pupils.

Homework: a word that can cause despair not just in children, but also in parents and even teachers. And for primary school children at least, it may be that schools setting homework is more trouble than it’s worth.

There is evidence that homework can be useful at secondary school. It can be used to consolidate material learnt in class or to prepare for exams.

However, it is less clear that homework is useful for children at primary school (ages 5 to 11) or in early years education (ages 3 to 5).

What is homework for?

There are no current guidelines on how much homework primary school children in England should be set. In 2018 then education secretary Damien Hinds stated that “We trust individual school head teachers to decide what their policy on homework will be, and what happens if pupils don’t do what’s set”.

While there is not much data available on how much homework primary school pupils do, a 2018 survey of around 1,000 parents found that primary pupils were spending an average of 2.2 hours per week on homework.

The homework done by primary school children can include reading, practising spellings, or revising for tests. Charity the Education Endowment Foundation suggests that the uses for homework at primary school include reinforcing the skills that pupils learn in school, helping them get ready for tests and preparing them for future school lessons.

Homework can also act as a point of communication between home and school, helping parents feel part of their child’s schooling.

However, the 2018 Ofsted Parents’ Panel – which surveyed the views of around 1,000 parents in England on educational issues – found that 36% of parents thought that homework was not helpful at all to their primary school children. The panel report found that, for many parents, homework was a significant source of stress and negatively affected family life.

Little academic benefit

Not much academic research has been carried out on the impact of homework for children in primary school. The available meta-studies – research that combines and analyses the findings of a number of studies – suggest that homework has little or no positive benefit for the academic achievement of children of primary school age. A central reason for this seems to be the inability of children to complete this homework without the support provided by teachers and the school.

Some research has suggested that primary pupils lack the independent study skills to do homework, and that they are not able to stay focused on the work.

What’s more, homework may actually have a negative effect if parents set unrealistic expectations, apply pressure or use methods that go counter to those used at school.

Homework may also increase inequalities between pupils. High achievers from economically privileged backgrounds may have greater parental support for homework, including more educated assistance, higher expectations and better settings and resources.

However, it is possible that setting homework for primary school children has benefits that cannot be easily measured, such as developing responsibility and independent problem-solving skills. It could also help children develop habits that will be useful in later school life.

A common task set for homework in primary schools is for children to read with their parents. There is some evidence that this has a positive impact as well as providing enjoyment, but the quality of interaction may be more important than the quantity.

If the purpose of homework is to develop the relationship between home and school and give parents more stake in the schooling of their children then this may well be a positive thing. If this is its purpose, though, it should not be used as a means to improve test scores or school performance metrics. For the youngest children, anything that takes time away from developmental play is a bad thing.

Rather, any homework should develop confidence and engagement in the process of schooling for both children and parents.

Last updated

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Working After School: How Long Should You Spend Doing Homework?

25 February 2021

7 minutes to read

How long should students spend doing homework?

  • 01. Homework at Primary School
  • 02. How Much Time Should Secondary School Pupils Spend Doing Homework
  • 03. Homework in Sixth Form or College

The average 15-year-old pupil in the UK has 5 hours of homework each week . Generally, in countries where they get more homework, their academic performance doesn’t increase.

However, this doesn’t that homework is pointless. It can be used to consolidate a student’s understanding of the lessons they did during the day. The amount of homework generally increases with age and primary school pupils get a lot less than students studying for their GCSEs.

The 5 hours a week statistic is average for OECD countries. Chinese students get an average of 14 hours of homework each week but their PISA results are only marginally better than countries with between 3 and 6 hours of homework.

So how much time should you spend doing homework?


Homework at Primary School

Children in primary school should probably go back over what they’ve been learning during the day. Even if this is reading a passage or practising some times tables.

How long should young children spend doing homework?

They really shouldn’t have more than 24 hours a week of schooling with no more than 3 hours per half-day. Generally, they’ll be in school from 9:00 until 15:00 with breaks in the morning and afternoon as well as a lunch break. However, in some cases, they might only get a couple of breaks during the day.

Once they get home, the amount of homework they do should reflect their age and level.

Check out our guide to homework .

Younger primary school students or “infants” (Reception to Year 2) will learn to read, write, and count. While their days will be full of learning, they’ll also need to relax to aid concentration. At the end of the day, we recommend a snack and a break before they do any school work.

Usually, homework can take between 10 minutes and half an hour at this age and usually involves some reading, simple maths exercises, or a bit of writing. At 6 or 7, most pupils will need help from their parents when they go over their lessons and do their homework.

If your child is struggling at school or is tired, don’t hesitate to chat to them about school over lunch and quiz them on their time tables during bath time, for example. You’ll want them to see homework as something fun rather than a chore and private tutoring can help with this.

Juniors (Year 3 to Year 6)

Older primary school pupils still won’t get too much homework. Again, they can have a break and a snack before getting down to do their homework.

Children aged between 8 and 10 will probably only need between 20 and 40 minutes to do their homework.

Even though it’s a good idea for the parents to be there, the pupil should have some autonomy when it comes to doing their homework and the parents should only help if necessary. Of course, you can listen to them reading and correct them.

At a young age, you might want to avoid them doing homework at the weekend. We know that this isn’t always possible, but having them do homework on school days can help you organise your schedule more easily. If you don’t have the choice, allocate some time on a Saturday or Sunday to doing homework.

Find out more about planning and organising homework .

How Much Time Should Secondary School Pupils Spend Doing Homework

Once pupils reach secondary school, homework will take on a more important role. Going into Year 7 is a big step for a lot of pupils. They need to adapt to their new school and the idea of having several teachers instead of just one. They’ll also have different classes with different teachers.

How long should secondary school pupils spend doing homework?

A typical day will be slightly longer and the school may be farther away, which makes their overall day a bit longer, too. As they progress, they’ll get more choice in terms of the subjects they can study.

Learn how to get the most out of homework .

Year 7 will be the biggest change as they adjust to their new school. In a lot of cases with pupils coming from different primary schools, teachers will be trying to get all the pupils to the same level.

Students shouldn’t spend over 45 minutes each day on homework. They’ll also have opportunities during the day to do some of their homework.

Years 8 and 9

During Years 8 and 9, a lot of students get to make choices about some of the subjects they study, especially with foreign languages. They also get chances to try out different subjects before choosing their GCSE options at the end of Year 9.

At this age, between 45 minutes and an hour should be enough for focusing on their homework. Of course, this will depend on how well they study and how long they can concentrate.

Years 10 and 11

Year 10 is the first year of GCSE for students.

During this age, we recommend they spend an hour each day on their homework. This time will increase before exams or when they’re doing past papers.

If they still need help studying, it might be a good idea to get help from a private tutor.

Learn how to deal with a lot of homework .

Homework in Sixth Form or College

Once students have finished their GCSEs, they can move onto their A Levels. They can do this at their school if it has a sixth form or study at a college. At this age, courses aren’t about rote memory but rather an understanding of the subjects they’re studying.

How much homework should sixth formers get?

Lower Sixth or AS Level

At this age, students tend to have fewer hours of lessons but more time to dedicate to study. If they’re at school, they mightn’t be free to come and go as they please.

They may have a lot of gaps in their timetable and it’s a good idea for them to use this time to study or do homework.

Ideally, they won’t want to spend more than an hour each day outside of the typical school time studying or revising. They have a lot of freedom and control over their education at this point.

If they can stay on top of everything, they mightn’t need to dedicate any time outside of school or college to study.

A Level/Upper Sixth

Again, students will have a lot of freedom when it comes to their free and it’ll mainly fall on them to be responsible. They won’t have teachers pressing them to get work done and they’ll be expected to take control of doing homework and studying.

Can students get help with their homework from tutors?

We still recommend that they spend an hour to 90 minutes studying and doing homework and even doing a bit on the weekend, especially if they have exams coming up.

It can be useful for memory to go over the week’s classes at the weekend.

Learn how to help children with their homework .

If you or your child need help with homework or schoolwork, consider getting help from one of the many talented and experienced private tutors on Superprof. There are tutors for academic support, homework help, and specific subjects all over the country and around the world.

Private tutorials are either taught face-to-face, online, or in groups and each type of tutoring comes with advantages and disadvantages so think carefully about which one is right for you and your budget before hiring a private tutor.

One-on-one tutorials are just between the student and the tutor and can be tailored to suit the student's preferred learning style. This makes these types of tutorials incredibly effective as every minute is spent working to help the student. However, they also tend to be the most expensive type of tutoring available as you'll be paying for all the extra time and effort the tutor puts into planning and adapting their lessons to the student.

As they don't have to travel to each tutorial, online tutors can afford to charge less than face-to-face tutors and they often do. While these types of tutorials mightn't be as effective for certain hands-on subjects, they're excellent for academic subjects, study skills, revision, and help with homework.

Group tutorials are an excellent choice for families on a tight budget. With several students attending each session, there won't be as many opportunities for the tutor to adapt the lessons to the individual, but the cost will be shared amongst everyone participating, which makes these tutorials cheaper per student per hour.

Remember that a lot of the tutors on Superprof offer the first lesson or hour for free and you can use these sessions to try out several different tutors before deciding on the right one for you. Once you've chosen the perfect tutor, you can start working with them directly.

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Joseph is a French and Spanish to English translator, language enthusiast, and blogger.

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What age should children be given homework?

When should children start homework and should they be doing it at all?

Homework can be an emotive subject. For some, that feeling of Sunday night dread (when you’d left it to the last possible moment) never properly leaves us. Still creeping up in waves of panic like an irrational fear, or returning to us in nightmares. For others, one too many excuses about peckish dogs brings back memories sparking guilt or regret. When our own children start school, the nightmares can quickly turn into nightly battles that often end with us picking up the pencil in order to get it done. Attention spans are short after a long day at school and homework takes time away from family life. 

In this country homework commonly starts in reception, taking the form of reading. From Year 1 and into Year 2, children are usually expected to complete one to two tasks per week. But parents are questioning if this is too early and ultimately if homework is necessary at all. 

It’s a hot topic at the moment due to a new framework that was introduced in the state system in September. Ofsted has said its inspectors will not assess how homework is being done because schools should decide whether or not they set it for their students. This marks a huge departure in the inspection regime, which previously looked at homework as part of the way it approached the teaching, learning, and assessment of children. 

Independent schools are of course free to set their own policies about homework and the approach is varied.  Queen’s Gate Junior School in South Kensington takes the view that homework can be of value, if it’s set in a constructive way. Mr James Denchfield, director of the school says: “It befalls good schools not only to teach well but also to nurture essential learning skills, such as independence, self-motivation and retention of information,” he continues “homework is at its most beneficial when it asks pupils not just to review what they have learnt but to understand why they have learnt it, as they make the leap from specific task to general rule. Well-conceived, purposeful tasks, which draw on pupils’ creativity and demand lateral thinking are the most satisfying to undertake and are the ones which leave the greatest impression in children’s minds.”

The King Alfred School in Golders Green, north-west London takes a more progressive stance. Head of Lower School, Karen Thomas says: “At The King Alfred School we’ve chosen not to set homework for our Lower School students in order to remove undue pressure for our children and their families. Using enquiry as our main pedagogical approach we create enough exciting opportunities in the school day to trigger their curiosity and open the door to learning both in and out of school. We like to keep parents fully informed as to what is happening in the classrooms in order to enable rich conversations at home. Our oldest students have home learning projects in order to prepare them for their transition to the Upper School which is something they themselves requested.”

Ofsted’s 2018 report stated that homework is a “huge stress” for families in the UK. Of the parents they collected feedback from, a third felt that it is not helpful for primary school-age children – an opinion that was at the centre of a high profile Twitter debate at the end of 2018. 

The fray in question started when comedian Rob Delaney wrote: “Why do they give seven-year-olds so much homework in the UK and how do I stop this?” Football presenter Gary Lineker typed back, agreeing that children “should be allowed to play and enjoy home life with their -parents without the divisiveness of work they have plenty of time to do at school.” However, Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan weighed in with the opposite opinion. He wrote: “As a nation, we’re falling so far behind educational standards of countries like China, it’s embarrassing.”

The consensus around the world is indeed varied. In Finland, a country that consistently tops global education rankings, children start school at age seven and the homework they receive is minimal, and in some schools, they don’t get any at all. In the New York private system (a city famed for being enslaved to the rat race) homework also starts much later. Most schools begin with play-based learning, only bringing homework into the equation at third or fourth grade.  

But this is not the case in other high-pressured societies. Having previously taught in London, Sophie Helsby is a Grade 1 teacher in an independent school on the outskirts of Tokyo. She feels that the parents in Japan put too much focus on their child’s future success. She says: “In the school I work in, we have to set homework weekly. The parents actually want it and they always ask for more,” she continues, “we do enough at school to support their learning and we want kids to come to school energised and well-rested. I always tell parents that their children need time at home to relax and play, but they don’t really understand that here.”

Academic results are of course a huge factor for parents when they are looking for a school that will be best suited for their child. But thought about whether homework contributes to higher success rates for younger children tends to vary. A 2001 meta-study by the National Foundation for Educational Research concluded that there was “a positive relationship between time spent and outcomes at secondary level” but “evidence at primary level is inconsistent”.

Conor Heaven, a former teacher and Digital Learning Leader at TT Education argues that while homework can have “zero impact”, there’s a difference between homework and home learning. He says: “even from the youngest ages, the one most important thing that should happen every week without fail is reading,” he continues “there are primary schools that have got rid of homework completely. They have seen that they don’t gain any value from it, but reading absolutely would still carry on in this scenario.”

Like or loathe the idea of homework, one thing for sure is the importance of books for young learners. Not only does it help with language acquisition and literacy skills, but it expands children’s imaginations and their understanding of the world. And bedtime stories may just be the antidote to those nightmares about hungry dogs.

Further reading: How parents can support their child’s education

Abbie Schofield

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homework in uk

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The role of homework

Homework seems to be an accepted part of teachers’ and students’ routines, but there is little mention of it in ELT literature.

homework in uk

The role of homework is hardly mentioned in the majority of general ELT texts or training courses, suggesting that there is little question as to its value even if the resulting workload is time-consuming. However, there is clearly room for discussion of homework policies and practices particularly now that technology has made so many more resources available to learners outside the classroom.

Reasons for homework

  • Attitudes to homework
  • Effective homework
  • Types of homework
  • Homework is expected by students, teachers, parents and institutions.
  • Homework reinforces and helps learners to retain information taught in the classroom as well as increasing their general understanding of the language.
  • Homework develops study habits and independent learning. It also encourages learners to acquire resources such as dictionaries and grammar reference books. Research shows that homework also benefits factual knowledge, self-discipline, attitudes to learning and problem-solving skills.
  • Homework offers opportunities for extensive activities in the receptive skills which there may not be time for in the classroom. It may also be an integral part of ongoing learning such as project work and the use of a graded reader.
  • Homework provides continuity between lessons. It may be used to consolidate classwork, but also for preparation for the next lesson.
  • Homework may be used to shift repetitive, mechanical, time-consuming tasks out of the classroom.
  • Homework bridges the gap between school and home. Students, teachers and parents can monitor progress. The institution can involve parents in the learning process.
  • Homework can be a useful assessment tool, as part of continual or portfolio assessment.

Attitudes to homework Teachers tend to have mixed feelings about homework. While recognising the advantages, they observe negative attitudes and poor performance from students. Marking and giving useful feedback on homework can take up a large proportion of a teacher’s time, often after school hours.

  • Students themselves complain that the homework they are given is boring or pointless, referring to homework tasks that consist of studying for tests, doing workbook exercises, finishing incomplete classwork, memorising lists of vocabulary and writing compositions. Where this is actually the case, the negative effects of homework can be observed, typified by loss of interest and a view of homework as a form of punishment.
  • Other negative effects of poorly managed homework include lack of necessary leisure time and an increased differential between high and low achievers. These problems are often the cause of avoidance techniques such as completing homework tasks in class, collaborating and copying or simply not doing the required tasks. In turn, conflict may arise between learners, teachers, parents and the institution.

Effective homework In order for homework to be effective, certain principles should be observed.

  • Students should see the usefulness of homework. Teachers should explain the purpose both of homework in general and of individual tasks.
  • Tasks should be relevant, interesting and varied.
  • Good classroom practice also applies to homework. Tasks should be manageable but achievable.
  • Different tasks may be assigned to different ability groups. Individual learning styles should be taken into account.
  • Homework should be manageable in terms of time as well as level of difficulty. Teachers should remember that students are often given homework in other subjects and that there is a need for coordination to avoid overload. A homework diary, kept by the learner but checked by teachers and parents is a useful tool in this respect.
  • Homework is rarely co-ordinated within the curriculum as a whole, but should at least be incorporated into an overall scheme of work and be considered in lesson planning.
  • Homework tends to focus on a written product. There is no reason why this should be the case, other than that there is visible evidence that the task has been done.
  • Learner involvement and motivation may be increased by encouraging students to contribute ideas for homework and possibly design their own tasks. The teacher also needs to know how much time the students have, what facilities they have at home, and what their preferences are. A simple questionnaire will provide this data.
  • While homework should consolidate classwork, it should not replicate it. Home is the outside world and tasks which are nearer to real-life use of language are appropriate.
  • If homework is set, it must be assessed in some way, and feedback given. While marking by the teacher is sometimes necessary, peer and self-assessment can encourage learner independence as well as reducing the teacher’s workload. Motivating students to do homework is an ongoing process, and encouragement may be given by commenting and asking questions either verbally or in written form in order to demonstrate interest on the teacher’s part, particularly in the case of self-study and project work.

Types of homework There are a number of categories of useful and practicable homework tasks.

  • Workbook-based tasks Most published course materials include a workbook or practice book, mainly including consolidation exercises, short reading texts and an answer key. Most workbooks claim to be suitable for both class and self-study use, but are better used at home in order to achieve a separation of what is done in class and at home. Mechanical practice is thus shifted out of class hours, while this kind of exercise is particularly suited to peer- or self-checking and correction.
  • Preparation tasks Rarely do teachers ask learners to read through the next unit of a coursebook, though there are advantages in involving students in the lesson plan and having them know what is coming. More motivating, however, is asking students to find and bring materials such as photographs and pictures, magazine articles and realia which are relevant to the next topic, particularly where personalisation or relevance to the local context requires adaptation of course materials.
  • Extensive tasks Much can be gained from the use of graded readers, which now often have accompanying audio material, radio and TV broadcasts, podcasts and songs. Sometimes tasks need to be set as guidance, but learners also need to be encouraged to read, listen and watch for pleasure. What is important is that learners share their experiences in class. Extensive reading and listening may be accompanied by dictionary work and a thematic or personalised vocabulary notebook, whereby learners can collect language which they feel is useful.
  • Guided discovery tasks Whereas classroom teaching often involves eliciting language patterns and rules from learners, there is also the option of asking learners to notice language and make deductions for themselves at home. This leads to the sharing of knowledge and even peer teaching in the classroom.
  • Real-world tasks These involve seeing, hearing and putting language to use in realistic contexts. Reading magazines, watching TV, going to the cinema and listening to songs are obvious examples, offering the option of writing summaries and reviews as follow-up activities. Technology facilitates chat and friendship networks, while even in monolingual environments, walking down a shopping street noticing shop and brand names will reveal a lot of language. As with extensive tasks, it is important for learners to share their experiences, and perhaps to collect them in a formal or informal portfolio.
  • Project work It is a good idea to have a class or individual projects running over a period of time. Projects may be based on topics from a coursebook, the locality, interests and hobbies or selected individually. Project work needs to be guided in terms of where to find resources and monitored regularly, the outcome being a substantial piece of work at the end of a course or term of which the learner can claim ownership.

Conclusion Finally, a word about the Internet. The Web appears to offer a wealth of opportunity for self-study. Certainly reference resources make project work easier and more enjoyable, but cutting and pasting can also be seen as an easy option, requiring little originality or understanding. Conferring over homework tasks by email can be positive or negative, though chatting with an English-speaking friend is to be encouraged, as is searching for visual materials. Both teachers and learners are guilty of trawling the Net for practice exercises, some of which are untried, untested and dubious in terms of quality. Learners need guidance, and a starting point is to provide a short list of reliable sites such as the British Council's  LearnEnglish  and the BBC's Learning English  which provide a huge variety of exercises and activities as well as links to other reliable sources. Further reading Cooper, H. Synthesis of Research on Homework . Educational Leadership 47/3, 1989 North, S. and Pillay, H. Homework: re-examining the routin e. ELT Journal 56/2, April 2002 Painter, L. Homework . English Teaching Professional, Issue 10, 1999 Painter, L. Homework . OUP Resource Books for Teachers, 2003

First published in October 2007

Mr. Steve Darn I liked your…

Mr. Steve Darn I liked your method of the role of the homework . Well, I am one of those laggard people. Unfortunately, when it comes to homework, I definitely do it. Because, a student or pupil who understands new topics, of course, does his homework to know how much he understands the new topic. I also completely agree with all of Steve Darn's points above. However, sometimes teachers give a lot of riff-raff homework, just like homework is a human obligation. This is a plus. But in my opinion, first of all, it is necessary to divide the time properly, and then to do many tasks at home. Only then will you become an "excellent student" in the eyes of the teacher. Although we live in the age of technology, there are still some people who do not know how to send homework via email. Some foreign teachers ask to send tasks by email. Constant email updates require time and, in rare cases, a fee. My above points have been the cause of constant discussions.

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exam and certificate

Setting homework, busy work or homework, setting homework.

I could not agree more!

Homeworks are an excellent way to revise and learn.

However, students are not likely to accept homeworks. That is why, as you claimed, the homeworks need to be useful, to have purpose.

I like your idea of ,, Real-world tasks,, since they definitely involve their background knowledge and such a type of homework is interesting and contemporary!

I totally agree. I am one of those teachers who give a lot of homework, and sometimes pupils don't like it. But homework help a lot. I mostly prefer project works, especially to upper levels.

I want to learn more about upper English specially law and business English all terms and words that we can use when we are making business.

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Homework: what can it teach us?

  • Post author: admin
  • Post published: 29th September 2020
  • Post category: Class / Gender / Parents / Race / Teachers
  • Post comments: 0 Comments

By Annie Thwaite //

Love it or loathe it, homework is, and has long been, an important part of secondary education. This year’s nationwide school closures have meant that children were (and in some cases are still) being taught from home, bringing a whole new meaning to the word ‘homework’ (alongside another, older meaning, associated with mostly female at-home workers, which the historian Helen McCarthy has recently written about here ). This prompted us to delve into the archives and consider the pupil and parent experience of homework in the UK since 1945. In addition, the recent need for emergency remote learning has acutely highlighted many of the longstanding social issues surrounding doing school work at home, for example, finding a quiet space to work in busy households. This blogpost explores homework in the SESC archives and beyond, and asks: what are your memories of homework?

Homework has generally been seen as an important part of learning, given to ensure that pupils can practice and improve upon what they have learnt in lessons, and get the most out of the particular subject they are studying. It might also be seen to encourage good habits of independent, unsupervised work and other useful attributes for later life, preparing pupils to enter the workplace. As secondary education expanded from 1945 onwards, homework also expanded to include different subjects and different social groups, becoming increasingly common and increasingly important. But while given in pupils best interest, homework has often been met with resentment and displeasure by all those who have had to do it, and help with it. Indeed, entrants to Merrywood Boys’ Grammar School, Bristol in 1981 were told that they were expected to give their homework ‘ proper care and thought, remembering that it is given in their interest ’; perhaps as a reminder to students like this Year 7 from Fitzalan High School, Cardiff, who wrote a morose poem about his homework in the 1977 edition of the school magazine, lamenting that ‘ homework weighs a ton ’.

homework in uk

Yet while most (although not all) children were divided by the 11+ exams between grammar schools and secondary modern schools (and their equivalents in Scotland) after 1945, the experience of homework initially differed greatly according to individual schools and school types. Peter Gordon has noted how in grammars, homework was a more accepted part the course of education, whereas practices in secondary modern schools varied significantly. [1] According to a survey of male pupils carried out by the Central Advisory Council for Education, England between November and December 1947:

  • 24% of secondary modern boys in the survey were given up to an hour’s homework each evening, in contrast to 43% for grammar school boys
  • Just 5% of secondary modern boys compared to 55% of grammar boys did more than an hour’s homework
  • And 71% of secondary modern boys compared to 2% of grammar boys had no homework at all. [2]

Whatever the level of homework given, it soon became necessary for pupils, parents and teachers to keep track of homework and ensure its completion. School guides for new pupils have almost always made reference to the timetables and planners that would guide student’s homework. For instance, new parents and entrants of Llanedeyrn High School in Cardiff in the 2000s were told of the importance of the pupil planner and homework timetable in recording homework, the guide noting that:

  • ‘The planner provides an important means of communication between home and school. Every week we ask parents/carers to sign the Planner. The Form Tutor will also sign the Planners regularly.’
  • ‘To help parents, each child is given a homework time-table containing details of all homework set on a given night. You are asked to take a close personal interest in the completed homework thereby helping you to form a clearer picture of the nature and extent of work requirements for the form.’

As pupils progressed upwards in school, these more rigid means of tracking and assessing homework might be dropped; students entering sixth form at Llanedeyrn in 1975, for example,  were informed of their new responsibilities regarding independent study, but warned not to rush homework ‘the night before it is due to be handed in’.

homework in uk

Meanwhile, staff had their own responsibilities surrounding the proper completion of homework. Teachers at Merrywood Boys’ School in 1974 were told to: look through a boys written work and homework so that you know the standard being achieved and can follow up poor or omitted sections. Particular attention here to neatness and presentation . In the event that students had failed to complete homework, teachers might dole out penalties. The records of Fitzalan Technical High School Punishment Book in the 1960s demonstrate how ‘Persistent refusal to do homework’ might result in corporal punishment:

18.10.61, Male pupil (2C), Persistent refusal to do homework, 2 strokes on each hand by a teacher
16.2.62, Male (1B), Persistent refusal to do homework, 2 strokes on rump by a teacher

Homework might even be given as punishment for other forms of bad behaviour in school. The minute book for the school council of Braehead School, Aberdeen in 1957 recorded the punishment given to a female student playing truant as catch-up homework:

11/12/1957 : The question was raised about [female student] playing truant and then giving Miss X a note that was of her being absent about a week ago. The Council decided that she should get homework from the teachers she missed on the day she played truant.

If homework was crucial to a pupils subject knowledge and self-development, what form was it to take? The Essex Education Committee set out its views on this matter in a 1954 journal issued to the county’s schools. [3] According to the Committee, there should be two types of homework: formal and informal. As the majority of pupils stayed for only four years (ages 11-15), formal homework was given in the attempt to cover everything they wanted to in school, particularly for English and Maths.

A certain amount of relief could be afforded to a very full curriculum and higher standards achieved if some time were given to study outside regular school hours. Essex Education Committee, 1954

Informal homework however could align with pupil’s own personal interests, whether they enjoyed craft-work, photography, collecting, or any of a range of other activities. By 1971, many of the same attitudes to the different types of homework appeared to have been retained. The CASE (Confederation for the Advancement of State Education, Essex) handbook entitled Local Schools: A Handbook for Parents from 1971 discussed ‘staying on’ for sixth form, and noted that pupils should do five sessions of homework a week, but flagged the vital importance of healthy, worthwhile hobbies. 

homework in uk

Forms of entertainment, however, might well be prove a distraction to pupils trying to do their homework. From the onset of universal education, homework was impacted by new forms of technology in the home. In 1948, the Ministry of Works commissioned a survey in Merseyside on the effects of the radio, which noted that less than half the children could say that they did not hear the wireless at all, and 1 in 8 heard it all the time. A decade later, a Nuffield Foundation study on Television and the Child examined two commonly held sets of views: 1) that television interfered with homework and serious study, but 2) that on the other hand television encouraged new interests and so made the child more willing to take certain subjects seriously.

homework in uk

The potential distraction caused by radios and TVs was reflected in school guides, such as the booklet of Information for Parents of New Entrants at Llanedeyrn High School from the 1970s, which implored parents to:

give every encouragement by allowing your child, if possible, to do homework in a separate room and by preventing the distracting influence of wireless and television from interfering with it.

homework in uk

The issue of distractions in the home links to a much broader social issue, as while parents could be asked to provide suitable working conditions for their children to do homework, these demands were inevitably limited by the dynamics of individual home environments, social class, gender, age, ethnicity, local geography, and the tendency for pupils to have afterschool and/or Saturday jobs. [Read more about the relationships of parents to education in this briefing paper by Dr Chris Jeppesen]. The requirement for emergency remote education from March this year highlighted the need to understand the complex and varying needs of children’s lives away from school. Articles in the media emphasised how many families in the UK don’t have access to the technology necessary to facilitate home learning through computers, tablets or printers, or even paper and writing equipment. According to a report by the UNESCO Education Centre at Ulster University, while many parents spoke positively about home-based learning, others described difficulties in navigating online resources, and parents of children entitled to free school meals were more likely to have no or poor internet access compared to other parents. [4] Meanwhile, an estimated two million children in England live in homes affected by substance abuse, domestic violence or mental health issues. [5]

These complex social issues concerning the relationship between home life and school work are longstanding. One of the earliest longitudinal studies into education and inequality after the Second World War found that it was the home context that determined children’s ability to succeed in the education system. [6] A report by the Central Advisory Council in 1963 on ‘the education of pupils aged 13 to 16 of average or less than average ability’ found that in many urban areas, the conditions in which some families lived made it impossible for homework to be done satisfactorily. The report urged quiet rooms in schools and public libraries to be provided if all pupils were to successfully complete homework. [7] Similarly, a report by the Bangladesh Women’s Association in Great Britain examined the difficulty pupils faced when doing homework in poor and overcrowded accommodation. Other issues such as difficulties with language, mother’s and father’s lack of education, and work schedules meant that parents were unable to support children with their education, leading to under achievement of Bangladeshi children in education.

In its 1977 report, the Commons Select Committee on Race Relations and Immigration highlighted extensive concerns about the poor performance of West Indian children in schools, and recommended that the government should institute a thorough independent inquiry into the causes of underachievement. Labour education secretary Shirley Williams established the ‘Committee of Inquiry into the Education of Children from Ethnic Minority Groups’ in March 1979. The Committee published its interim report West Indian Children in our Schools , or the Rampton Report, in 1981. It concluded that the main problems were low teacher expectations, and racial prejudice among white teachers and society as a whole; yet this message was widely unpopular, and attacked by the media before the report was even published. [8] Under a new chairman, the Committee’s final report, the 1985 Swann Report entitled Education for All mostly repeated Rampton’s conclusions, including that:

  • LEAs and schools should look for ways in which parents can be more closely involved in helping their children learn to read, and teachers should be better trained to understand the language needs of ethnic minority children
  • LEAs should ensure that information is provided in a form which is accessible and easily understood by parents, particularly those from ethnic minority groups
  • Schools should encourage teachers to see home visiting as an integral part of their pastoral responsibilities
  • LEA induction programmes for probationary teachers should include guidance on the needs and backgrounds of all pupils in their area

homework in uk

Altogether, it seems that homework is about more than just making school children to spend more time studying. Instead, it represents the expansion of educational practices into the home, which has made us as a society increasingly aware of how uneven the playing field is for children in schools, due to the diversity of home circumstances. One marker of this might be seen in the way that the guides and parent handbooks created by schools from the 1970s and 80s increasingly attempted to detail their expectations about homework directly to parents (like in the examples above, from Llanedeyrn High School) – perhaps an attempt to establish and standardise good habits across families in the school community.

What are your memories of homework? Do you recall struggling through the subjects you found trickier, or do you have clearer memories of the more fun, ‘informal’ homework like the kind described in this post? Did the TV or radio distract you from work, or would you have liked even more homework to do? Let us know in the comments below.

[1] Peter Gordon (1980) Homework: Origins and Justifications, Westminster Studies in Education, 3:1, 27-46, p.41.

[2] WARD, J. (1948) Children Out of School. An inquiry into the leisure interests and activities of children out of school hours carried out for the Central Advisory Council for England in November-December 1947, p.23 (London, HMSO)

[3] Homework in secondary modern schools, Essex Education, 8, 1954, pp.7-8.

[4] Online child abuse rising during lockdown warn police, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-52773344 ; Coronavirus lockdown ‘perfect storm’ for abused children, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52876226 ; Vulnerable children will ‘slip out of view’, commissioner warns, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-54159977 [all accessed 23/09/20].

[5] Coronavirus: ‘2m children face heightened lockdown risk’,  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-52413511 [accessed 23/09/20]

[6] J.W.B. Douglas The Home and the School (1964)

[7] MINISTRY OF EDUCATION (1963) Half Our Future. A Report of the Central Advisory Council forEducation (England), pp.41-2 (London, HMSO); Gordon (1980) Homework: Origins and Justifications, Westminster Studies in Education, p.42.

[8] The Rampton Report (1981), ‘West Indian Children in our Schools’, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/rampton/index.html ; The Swann Report (1985), ‘Education for All’, http://www.educationengland.org.uk/documents/swann/index.html .

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homework in uk

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What is the point of homework and should schools set it?




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How Helpful is Homework?

Some schools have started banning homework. Given the time it takes for students to do homework, as well as the time it takes for teachers to mark it, the question we should all be asking is: how much impact does homework actually have?

This also leads to some follow-up questions: is more homework always better? Should students do their homework alone or with the help of a parent? And does homework impact students of different ages the same way?

To find the answers to these interrogations and suggestions as to what teachers should do, we had a look at the latest research on the subject…

Book Interleaving, Spacing and Dual Coding Workshop

The Benefits of Homework

Researchers have examined the homework habits of nearly 8,000 students. Here are the highlights from their findings:

  • Students performed significantly better when they were set regular homework by their teacher, compared to those who only had homework set occasionally.
  • Students who spent 90-110 minutes a day doing homework got the highest school grades on average.
  • However, the researchers found that 90-110 minutes was not necessarily the most efficient amount of time to spend on homework. Although it was the most effective in terms of grades, the extra time spent after 1 hour per day led to such minimal gains that it did not justify the extra time.
  • Students who did their homework by themselves ended up doing around 10% better in their exams compared to those who did their homework with their parents helping them.

Is it about Quantity, Quality, or Both?

A large scale review  found that 35% of homework experiences were negative. Why might that be the case? With 1 in 10 children stating in a world-wide study that they have multiple hours of homework per night, this may be caused by the amount of work taking up their time. Students in China seem to get the most homework, with the average student being set 14 hours per week. As a point of comparison, the average in the UK is about 5 hours.

For schools wanting to enhance their students’ well-being, it might be worth taking a look at the amount of homework students complete in a week and adjusting this to give them some time to breathe and relax.

Emerging evidence also suggests that homework is much more helpful for secondary students than primary students. The Education Endowment Foundation report that homework is worth only an additional 2 months progress for primary students, compared to 5 months for secondary students. They also conclude that, for primary school students, it is more about the quality of the task they’re given than the quantity. You can read the full report here .

While 2 months is obviously not to be sniffed at, the added progress from homework is considerably lower for younger pupils than it is for secondary students. This suggests that primary school teachers may want to consider focusing on high-quality tasks for their students to complete as opposed to more homework just for the sake of it.

Putting the 'Home' in 'Homework'

It is important to emphasise the ‘home’ aspect of ‘homework’. Evidence suggests that parents having clear homework rules for their children is one of the most powerful things they can do to assist their child’s academic development. In addition, making sure they explain why these rules are in place can help pupils eventually make better decisions regarding their independent study time later in their school career.

However, despite it sounding counter-intuitive, it was found that parents supervising their child’s homework does not have a significant impact on grades. In fact, in many cases these students do worse compared to those who did their homework by themselves. This does not help the child learn more or improve their attitude towards learning. Helping their child develop healthy and consistent routines is the best way for parents to help their child thrive at school .

Final Thought

The debate about homework should be set will continue to rage for many years. Unfortunately, this argument is often framed around the amount of homework students have to complete, rather than its quality or the environment in which it is completed.

What is undeniable is that homework becomes more important as students progress through education. As well as setting the right amount (probably between an hour and 90 minutes a night), teachers should be encouraged to set homework that is both regular and high in quality. Parents can also help by setting clear homework rules and encouraging students to do it themselves, so as to enhance their understanding, learning and resilience.

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The beginner's guide to primary-school homework

Beginner's guide to primary-school homework

What’s the point of homework?

For many families, homework is a nightly battle, but primary schools set it for a variety of reasons. ‘It helps to consolidate the skills that are being taught at school, and provides children with additional revision opportunities,’ explains head teacher Steph Matthews of St Paul’s CofE School, Gloucester .

‘It also gives children an opportunity to explore learning in an unstructured setting, encouraging them to be independent and follow their own lines of enquiry.’ In addition, homework creates a partnership between school and family, giving parents an insight into what their child is learning.

homework in uk

How much homework should my child get in primary school?

In the past, the Department for Education advised that Key Stage 1 children should do an hour of homework each week, rising to half an hour per night in Key Stage 2. This advice was scrapped in 2012, giving schools more freedom, but many still follow the old guidelines.

In Reception , formal homework is rarely set. However, children are likely to bring home books to share with the family, first reading books, and/or keywords to learn.

In Years 1 and 2 , children are likely to have one or two tasks per week. This could be literacy or numeracy worksheets (for example an exercise where children have to compare the weights of different household items), a short piece of writing (such as a recount of a school trip) or work relating to the class topic (find out five facts about the Great Fire of London ).

In Years 3 and 4 , most schools set two homework activities each week: typically, one literacy (such as a worksheet on collective nouns, or a book review ) and one numeracy (a worksheet on bar charts).

In Years 5 and 6 , children may have two or three pieces of homework each week. ‘The amount begins to increase to prepare children for SATs and the transition to secondary school,’ says Steph. These activities might include maths worksheets, researching a topic, book reviews and grammar exercises.

Alongside formal homework tasks, most children bring home reading scheme books from Reception onwards, with weekly spellings and times tables from Year 1 or 2.

Learning logs and homework challenges

Not all schools rely on handing out worksheets. Learning logs or challenges are becoming more popular: children are given a folder of suggested activities – from writing a poem to building a model castle – and must choose a certain number to complete throughout the term.

Other schools ensure that homework ties in with the current class topic. ‘We have a themed approach, and set homework activities that give opportunities to explore the topic in a fun way, for example, designing a method of transport that Phileas Fogg could use to travel the world,’ explains Steph.  

Modern homework methods

Unsurprisingly, technology is playing an increasingly important part in homework. Some schools use online reading schemes such as Bug Club , where teachers allocate e-books of the appropriate level, or subscription services like SAM Learning  to set cross-curricular tasks.

A growing number also set homework electronically , with children logging into the school website to download their task.

What if the homework is too much – or too hard?

If you feel your child is overloaded with homework, speak to the teacher. ‘Forcing children to complete homework is counterproductive, because they come to perceive it as a chore,’ says Rod Grant, head teacher of Clifton Hall School, Edinburgh . ‘This makes learning appear boring, arduous or both, and that is really dangerous, in my view.’

Most schools publish their homework policy on the school website , telling parents exactly what to expect. ‘Teachers should make their expectations very clear in terms of deadlines and how long it should take, and should also differentiate tasks to suit the level of the pupil,’ adds Steph.

No homework at all?

If your child doesn’t get any homework, you may feel out of touch with his learning, or concerned that he isn’t being challenged. But there are good reasons why some schools don’t set homework, or set it only occasionally, says Rod. ‘Although homework can be beneficial, family life tends to suffer as a result of it being imposed,’ he explains. ‘ If a school isn’t providing homework, there’s plenty that parents can do at home instead : reading with their children, doing number puzzles on car journeys, using online resources, and so on.’

Parents may also worry that without doing homework, children won’t develop study habits for later life. ‘There is genuinely no need for a six-year-old to get into a routine of working at home; there’s time to learn that later,’ Rod advises. ‘Parents need to relax and encourage children to love learning – and that comes when learning is fun, relevant and engaging, not through doing homework tasks that are unchallenging, or secretarial in nature.’

Homework: advice and support for primary-school parents

For information and support on all aspects of homework, from managing other siblings to helping with specific subjects, head to our Homework area.

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