Most homework is not worth the family rows it causes, but after-hours clubs can help lift results

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The strain on family relationships caused by children's homework often outweighs any educational benefit, a study has found.

Research by the University of London's Institute of Education found that helping pupils with homework "can exacerbate or create family tensions".

Dr Sue Hallam, who conducted the research, said: "Problems may arise when parents try to help with homework, especially when they feel they lack the knowledge or the time." Problems could be greater when the child was a poor student, Dr Hallam added.

The study says: "Parents may inhibit their children's effectiveness in doing homework by trying to control the homework environment - telling children when and where to do homework or trying to eliminate distractions - instead of helping them adapt it to suit their learning styles." They can best contribute by offering moral support and only helping when specifically requested to do so, it concludes.

The study adds that some children can work better if the television is on or if there is a radio playing music. Pupils said that they found it easier to concentrate with music in the background either because it shut out other distractions or "built a wall of sound behind which they were able to retreat". It also offered companionship and helped to overcome the loneliness of doing homework, students said.

The study acknowledges that homework can have "modest benefits" for academic achievement - but mostly for brighter pupils or older pupils in secondary schools.

However, it says that it can create "anxiety, boredom, fatigue and emotional exhaustion in children who resent the encroachment on their free time - even though they think homework helps them do well at school".

The survey, which brings together a range of research, says: "Overall, most studies relating to attainment offer support for pupils doing homework but only at a moderate level. Very few studies suggest that homework has a negative effect on learning." One, though, found that homework for primary-school pupils was "inappropriate and counterpro- ductive", the survey notes.

The results conflict with government guidelines, which suggest that children as young as five should do up to an hour a week of homework.

The study does, however, back the government's after-hours homework clubs. It says of a homework club run by Tower Hamlets in east London: "Participating schools experienced larger gains in GCSE results over a three-year period than did non-participating schools, while at the student level a positive association was found between GCSE performance and attendance at Easter revision classes."

Dr Hallam said that homework clubs "give children the benefits of homework without the rows at home".

* Homework: the evidence is published by the Institute of Education on Thursday.