Must Do Homework Clip

Guide: Is homework a good idea or not?

The Christmas holidays are over and it's back to school!

That means lessons, assembly, seeing your friends and - for a lot of you - time to do homework again!

While giving homework to pupils in secondary schools is generally seen as a good idea, some don't think that kids in primary schools should have to do it.

For the last 100 years or so, experts have been trying to work out if it is beneficial to give homework to kids in primary schools.

In the UK, the government says it's up to the head teacher to decide whether or not their school will set extra work like this.

Find out more about both sides of the argument with Newsround's guide, and then let us know what you think of doing homework when you're in primary school.

What is homework?

Homework: A timeline

  • 1997: Just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework
  • 1998: Government publishes advice for schools in England and Wales about setting homework (e.g. pupils aged 5 to 7 should do 10 minutes of homework a night)
  • 1999: Around 9 in 10 primary schools are setting homework
  • 2012: Government gets rid of its guidelines, saying that schools should get to decide for themselves

Homework generally means work that is set by teachers for you to do outside of your normal school hours.

When you're younger, your parents might help you to do it.

But as you get older, you will generally take more responsibility for doing your homework on your own.

Professor Sue Hallam from the Institute of Education - who is one of the most experienced researchers into homework in the UK - says that in 1997, just over 6 in every 10 primary schools made their pupils do homework.

Just two years later, this had risen to around nine in ten primary schools and the majority still set homework now.

Why do people think homework is a good idea?

Many think that giving homework to primary school children is an important part of their learning.

They believe it helps them to practice what that they have learnt in lessons, in order to get better at things like spelling and handwriting.

They say it helps to teach children how to work on their own and be disciplined with themselves - both skills that are useful later in life.

It can also allow parents or guardians to get involved in their children's learning.

To find out more about why people think homework is a good idea, Jenny spoke to Chris from the campaign for Real Education, which is a group of teachers and parents who care about how well schools are doing.

Members of the organisation believe that traditional homework is important.

Chris told Newsround: "If you like learning, homework helps to support your learning. It's really important to go back afterwards and think about what you're learning in class. Practice makes perfect."

"In parts of the world, children are doing much better in school than children in the UK. In most cases, they are doing much more homework.

"That doesn't mean you should be doing home work all the time.

"But a little bit of homework to support what you're doing in the classroom, involving your parents and guardians, is really good because it allows you to do as well as everybody else in the world."

Chris added that it is important to have a balance between homework and other activities.

"Homework shouldn't be overdone. Let's do some homework and some play."

Why do people think homework is a bad idea?

Some people think that giving homework to children at primary school is not necessary.

They think it puts too much pressure on them and that the time spent doing homework could be used to do other activities.

Jenny also spoke to Nansi Ellis - assistant general secretary of one of the biggest teacher's unions in England, made up of teachers and heads - who doesn't believe that giving homework to primary school children is needed.

She told Newsround: "There is other good stuff you can do at home, like reading, playing sport or a musical instrument, or helping with the cooking, shopping or with your siblings. You might be a Guide or a Scout.

"Those things are really helpful for you to learn to work in a team, to learn to be creative, to ask questions and to help other people. These are really important skills.

"The trouble with homework is that it gets in the way of all of those good things that you could be doing and it doesn't necessarily help you with your school work."

Sometimes parents or guardians try to help with homework and, if they have been taught differently, it can end up being confusing for the child doing the homework. They can also end up doing too much of the work themselves!

Nansi added: "Some children live in really busy houses with lots of people coming and going, and they don't have a quiet space to do homework, so they can't use it to help them to get better at studying on their own, which doesn't seem fair.

"Teachers set homework for you to get better at your learning - that seems like a really good reason. But actually, the evidence isn't clear that even that's true."

Another expert Rosamund McNeil, from a teachers' organisation called the NUT, said: "Pupils in Finland are assigned very little homework yet they remain one of the most educationally successful countries in the world."

Why is this issue being talked about?

People have been trying to find out if homework is a good thing or a bad thing for many years.

Recently, a report was done by an organisation called the Teaching Schools Council, which works with the government and schools in England.

It says: "Homework [in primary schools] should have a clear purpose."

The report explains that if there isn't a clear reason for the homework and the pupils won't necessarily gain something from doing it, then it should not be set.

Dame Reena Keeble, an ex-primary school head teacher who led the report, told Newsround: "What we are saying in our report is that if schools are setting homework for you, they need to explain to you - and your mums and dads - why they're setting it, and your teachers need to let you know how you've done in your homework.

"We found homework can really help with your learning, as long as your school makes sure that what you're doing for your homework is making a difference."

So is homework a good idea or a bad idea?

Many people have different opinions. However, the truth is it's hard to know.

Professor Hallam explains that part of the problem is that it is difficult to accurately work out how useful homework is.

Generally, people agree that homework is good idea for children in secondary school.

But for primary school, it isn't clear if there's a right or wrong answer to this question.

And you've been having your say too.

Nearly 900 of you took part in an online vote about the amount of homework you get: whether it is not enough, just right or too much.

It's just a quick snapshot of what some of you think. Here's the results:

Now there have been questions about whether primary school kids should be given homework. Some researchers say there's no proof it helps kids to get better grades when they're older. Now before you start celebrating, it's important to know that not everyone agrees with this view and many teachers and parents still think it can be vital. So who's right? Sarah has a look at the debate.

SARAH LARSEN: It's four o'clock. You're home from school. You've had a snack and walked the dog and then it starts; homework.

KID: Tonight I'm doing some stuff about clouds so just looking at the clouds and seeing what sort of clouds they are and predicting the weather.

While it might not be your favourite pastime, lots of people think it's an important way to teach you about the world.

VICKI ATSALAS: Don't forget that whatever you don't get done in class you'll have to do for homework.

Ms Atsalas is a homework fan. And no, she's not mean. She just thinks it can really help kids - reinforcing the stuff they learn at school and building extra knowledge and skills.

VICKI ATSALAS: I also know that in the beginning a lot of my students don't agree with that but with the skills that they develop even they can see the benefits.

KID 1: Think homework is beneficial. I don't enjoy it but I think it is helpful to get life skills that you use later in life.
KID 2: You learn life skills as in like juggling work with your commitments.
KID 3: I think it will help me when I'm at a job and at high school I think it will help me when I'm studying for a test.

These guys say regular homework has helped them work efficiently and get organised; the sorts of skills they'll need later in life.

VICKI ATSALAS: When they get older there are going to be more responsibilities put on them and they'll be able to manage them much better having acquired these skills beforehand.

But how much homework is too much homework? And does it actually help kids to get better marks?

They're the sorts of questions Professor Richard Walker was trying to answer in a book he helped to write about Homework.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR RICHARD WALKER, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY: Generally speaking what we're saying in this book is that less homework is better and that the quality of homework has to be improved.

He says for primary school kids, homework won't necessarily lead to better marks.

Some schools like this one choose to give none at all.

MARC WEDDING: We don't feel like there’s any significant gain to be made in student’s education when it comes to homework.

Marc Wedding says when you're in Primary School you need to time to be a kid without stressing about homework.

KID 1: Reading books, going outside playing sport being active in bike riding or various other sporting activities they will have more impact in their lives rather than doing repetitive tasks.

KID 2: I like to play with my dog, feed my birds and then read some books that I got from the library.

KID 3: Considering you go to school for six hours you don't need to do any homework afterwards.

If you do have to spend some of your evenings like this experts say it's not necessarily a bad thing. While it might not guarantee you straight A’s, they say it can teach you to manage your own learning and organise your time. As long as it's quality homework; stuff that's interesting and stuff you can work on with your parents.

When you're in primary school afternoons are precious but so is your education. So where do you stand on the homework debate?

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