The Trouble With Homework

“More homework please!” “Homework is too easy – my children are at the top of the class and they do it in five minutes. .   They need homework every night not just a few minutes once a week!” “This school has been going downhill in terms of education ever since (former head) Mr …. left” (a good ten years ago).

Oh dear, it must our school’s termly Parent Forum. It was nice to have a good turnout of parents for once – not just the usual handful of suspects – but then this is what you have to expect. None of the of-course-we-all-agree assumptions of cosy pub PSA meetings.

For your information, as the presiding school governors were at pains to explain, our school has not been going downhill, on the contrary. After a bit of a dip when the former head left, results are definitely, quantifiably on the up. More children than ever are “exceeding national expectations” in reading writing and maths, and that without compromising the extra-curricular activities on offer.

Trouble is, all many parents see is the homework. So if there’s not much of it, or it’s “too easy”, they make similar assumptions about what goes on in class. Most parents at our school, heralding from every continent, are ambitious for their children, in rather conservative ways – after the government’s heart, you would imagine. In primary school they want their children to excel in the traditional subjects, in order to enter good colleges and become respected white-collar professionals later. Everything else, to them, is secondary.

Trouble also is . . .  Most are too stressed or busy to supervise each individual child’s activity between 3.30 and bedtime very closely. When they ask for more homework, my guess is, what they are actually asking for is more school help with this supervision. One way of keeping their offspring from the playstation or other activity they might consider frivolous (if not damaging) would be the threat of a school reprimand if they don’t just keep on studying. Aspiring tiger parents, they want a bit more school back-up on this.

Of course, extra homework doesn’t automatically equal extra brilliant child; I think this point has been made by a number of reliable studies. Children are best served out of state school hours by engaging in a range of, not necessarily organised, social, sporting and artistic activities that whether or not provide career inspiration will generally broaden their experience. They could also, usefully, just read a book.

Trouble is – never mind the formal extra-curricular stuff; I would have countered the above comments by pointing out that our class teachers constantly emphasise the need for daily reading, outside the set book, to the child, the child to you, in English and in the child’s first language, which is different for a majority of pupils at our school. They also recommend regular mental maths practice, and visiting the local library, and oh yes, virtually all children at school are learning a musical instrument, many of them two. These must be practised daily, half an hour each in KS2. Are you already doing all that with your kids? I would have asked. And you still want extra homework?

It’s the speech I wanted to make, but I didn’t, for fear of coming over too white-middle-class. And they’d have a point too. The truth is, even I, with only one child, no demanding husband and no proper job, don’t do all of that, every day, with my son. It takes, never mind money, more time, energy and mental resources than I usually have. If you’ve got dinner to cook for 5, 6 or more, the baby to take to the GP never mind playgroup, plus can’t read English yourself never mind the child’s sheet music, you’re not going to get round to chivvying your kids in years 2, 4 and 5 to do it all, one after the other – or altogether(?) – every single night.

Yeah, it would be great, just as good as doing homework. But failing that, as a respectable distraction, a fair whack of extra prep backed up by a teacher’s sanction if it’s not done probably looks like a pretty good alternative.


About marytuda

An accidental first time mum in her fifties reflects on all things maternal from position of perpetual outsider and prolonged state of shock. An urban odessy through parenthood plus from one who thought she'd never go there.
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