The 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.
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.