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Is homework helpful?

Is homework helpful?

4 min read
  • Parents & guardians
  • The science of learning

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…

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.

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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 thoughts

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.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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