The parents' guide to secondary school: homework

Secondary school homework a guide for parents
The amount of homework your child has to do will increase dramatically when they start secondary school. We explain what's involved.

If you thought getting your child to do their primary school homework was tough, just wait till they get to secondary school! Homework is a major – and daily – part of secondary school life, and while your child will be expected to get it done independently, it’s still important for you to keep abreast of what they need to do.

What’s the point of homework?

Homework helps to build on what your child is learning at school, and improves their academic achievement. A Department of Education study that followed 3,000 children over a 15-year period showed that any homework had educational benefits, and that pupils who did two to three hours a night got better results in English, maths and science.

Homework is particularly important when children start studying for GCSEs. Not only will they have to revise for their exams, but they’ll also need to put in the hours at home to make sure they’ve covered the syllabus in enough depth.

How much should your child be doing?

Previously, the Government advised that secondary school children should do two and a half hours of homework per night, but that guidance was scrapped in 2012, and it’s now up to schools to decide how much to set. About an hour to an hour and a half is usual in Years 7 and 8, rising to two to three hours in Years 10 and 11. A study of children’s homework habits around the world found that British pupils do an average 4.9 hours per week.

You can find out how much homework your child’s school expects them to do by looking at their homework policy on their website. There may also be a homework timetable to download so you can keep track of what your child should be doing.

What sort of tasks are set?

The type of homework your child is given will vary. It could include:

Learning: committing facts, words, details or rules to memory – for example, learning spellings or a list of irregular French verbs.

Completing: finishing work that was started at school.

Questions: answering questions about what they’ve been learning in class.

Researching: looking up information about a given topic using the internet, books and other resources.

Writing up: producing a final draft of rough work that was completed in school, or writing up what they’ve been learning about – for example, an essay about the book they’re reading in English.

Revision: going over what they’ve been learning in preparation for a test or exam.

Reading ahead: reading on in a textbook or reading to book to get an idea of what they’ll be learning next.

Rough work: preparing for a lesson or a piece of work by putting notes and information down on paper – for example, writing a paragraph plan for an essay.

Using a homework planner

Children are usually given a planner to help them manage their homework. They’ll be expected to use it every lesson to write down the details of their homework. You will probably be asked to sign their planner every week to confirm that they’ve completed their homework.

The homework planner is also a way for schools and parents to communicate about homework. For example, if your child has found a task too difficult, or if it seems to have taken them an unreasonable amount of time, you can write a note of explanation to the teacher. Or the teacher might write a message to you if your child has failed to hand their homework in.

Most schools also have some form of online portal to help pupils and parents keep track of homework. It might list the tasks your child has been set, provide links to resources or worksheets, and show when their homework is due in, has been handed in, and has been marked.

What if homework isn’t done?

Schools will have different policies concerning what happens if homework isn’t handed in, but it’s usual for children to have to complete the work in detention, which could be at break or lunchtime or after school. If they persistently fail to hand in their homework, you’re likely to be called in to discuss the problem.

Supporting your child with homework

It’s normal for your child to need some help getting used to the greater burden of homework when they start secondary school, and you’ll need to make sure you know what they’re supposed to be doing, chivvy them along when needed, and help them manage their time so it all gets done. Talk to your child about how they’d like to organise their homework: for example, would they prefer to get it out of the way as soon as they get home, or have some time to relax first? Do they want to do it all in one go, or break it down into shorter chunks?

As your child gets used to their new homework schedule, it’s expected that they’ll become more independent and you shouldn’t need to monitor them so closely. However, you can support them by making sure they have a quiet and comfortable place to work without distractions, and all the resources they need. Be available to help if they have questions or need pointing in the right direction, and check their work over every now and then: teachers will expect good presentation as well as accurate work. In some cases, you might need to be more involved, for example, by testing them ahead of an exam.

Many schools have after-school homework clubs where children can get their homework done. A homework club can be useful if pupils have assignments that involve using school resources, such as the library. It’s also helpful if you’re working and so have less time to help with homework, or if your child gets too distracted at home. Teachers or support staff are on hand to help, which can be a particular benefit for children who struggle with homework.

Don’t forget that you can use your child’s homework planner to let their teacher know of any problems with their homework, or ask questions if a task is unclear.

BBC Bitesize has a range of starting secondary school resources offering support and information about all aspects of secondary school life for parents and children.