11-year-olds shun homework for TV

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Nearly half of all children leaving primary schools have never done any homework, according to a major new study to be published today. Instead, they spend their time watching television and playing computer games.

The study by the National Foundation for Educational Research into the homework habits of 2,300 11- and 12-year-olds found that 43 per cent of the former (final-year primary pupils) said they were never given homework and 64 per cent of the latter (first-year secondary pupils) were doing less than an hour and half.

Nearly 80 per cent of the primary children said they spent two or more hours a day watching television, but 11 per cent spent as much as six hours a day.

Computer games were a daily pursuit for 43 per cent and one in 10 were ''hooked'' on four hours a day.

Just over 3 per cent of the primary pupils who filled in confidential questionnaires for the study admitted that they were given homework but did not do it.

The researchers also looked at children's attitudes to school and found that the vast majority - particularly girls - enjoyed it and liked their teachers, although nearly half said they had been bullied.

The 12-year-olds, interviewed at the end of their first year in secondary school, were only slightly less enthusiastic than the 11-year-olds.

Nearly a third of primary and 20 per cent of secondary pupils said they watched the clock because they were so eager for lessons to end.

Sue Harris, one of the report's authors, said: "There is no government guidance on the amount of homework children should do. It is left to individual schools and local authorities to decide. As a result, the amount varies from school to school and may even vary between children in the same school."

She said that many primary-school pupils were not being prepared for what they would encounter in secondary schools. "There is still a concern that pupils are not overburdened. Teachers tend to encourage pupils to carry on work they have been doing at school or to continue personal reading."

The findings of the study will boost plans by Labour for national homework targets. David Blunkett, Labour's education spokesman, recently angered teacher unions by saying that even seven-year-olds should be doing at least half an hour a night and secondary pupils an hour and a half.

The report also supports Mr Blunkett's contention that pupils are watching television instead of doing homework. While secondary-school children came closer to reaching Mr Blunkett's homework target with 19 per cent doing one and a half hours a night and 13 per cent doing more, they watched even more television.

A third admitted to four hours or more a day and two-thirds to between one and three hours.