Very little research has been conducted that informs us purely on the impact of homework on learning outcomes for children. What evidence we have from research suggests that homework has a greater impact on learning during the secondary or high school phase of education, than in the primary/elementary school phase.
What research there is adds weight to the arguement that there is a common misconception amongst parents that the setting of large amounts of homework by a school is an indication that the school has high academic standards, which in turn promotes the expectation that the more homework set, the better the school. In an education market that is growing increasingly competetive, it is misconceptions such as this that can often drive policy, rather than hard research evidence.
Supporters of homework often quote research that schools with high academic pass rates also set homework. What they rarely mention is that these schools do many other things as well that are more closely associated with high quality learning. Not least of all they attract parents who have high academic aspirations for their children - a factor that we know from hard research has a far greater impact on pupil attainment than the setting of homework. So we have to be careful about sweeping generalisations.
It would seem that the major factor for supporting the setting of 'homework' is that it builds an expectation amongst all pupils that 'learning' and 'education' are not restricted to school hours or the school building. It also helps them to build skills that are needed, especially for revision and preparation for external examinations. But are there other ways of achieving this without a reliance on a weekly homework timetable? We look more closely at this in the section 'Homework - the future?'
As in many things, our attitudes towards homework can be driven more by tradition, expectation, and the asumption by parents that 'if it worked for me it'll work for my children', rather than the hard evidence of sound research.
Does the setting of homework have a positive impact on a child's attainment, or can it actually do the opposite by removing important 'down-time' from the lives of children?
Research into the impact of homework is confusing to say the least. It is certainly inconclusive.
Evidence suggests that schools that set homework get better results than those that do not. However, this does not mean that it is the setting of homework that brings the results.
Not all 'homework' is 'good homework' and there is a real danger that badly set tasks can undermine a child's confidence.
Homework that is set as a last-minute thought by teachers can have a negative impact on a child's perception of the importance of homework.
Expectations by parents that homework will be set every night pressures teachers into setting meaningless homework tasks
In England, the decision in 2013 by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove MP, to give schools the freedom to decide their own homework policy, is a strong indication that the evidence in favour of homework is rather thin.
We would strongly recommend that parents look at the very readable review undertaken jointly by the highly regarded education foundations The Sutton Trust, and The Education Endowment Foundation, which explores and analyses all the available evidence on the impact of many strategies that are commonly used in schools. The Sutton Trust - EEF Teaching and Learning Toolkit illiustrates that there are many more successful strategies other than homework that schools can adopt to raise pupil attainment and achievement. Click on either link below to read the Toolkit.