Personally speaking

With so much homework, there's no time for other things
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I do homework. A lot of it. I have been doing nightly homework - at least 30 minutes' worth, thanks, Tony Blair - for 12 years, since my nearly-17-year-old started primary school.

On a fairly ordinary night, just before Christmas, I jotted down in my diary what I had done that night. It began with reading with my daughter, aged 10. Quite a nice book. Luckily her father was home early enough to help her with the rest of her homework. Some stuff about growing plants and the environment. He is a biologist and a teacher, so that one was more up his street. Anyway, I had to move on to a piece of French the 12-year old was doing. All about how one properly addresses letters in French.

And then I had to find him some suitable material for his still life. A piece of folded fabric, something that would give light - we took a chance and let him have a candle - and some fruit.

That was before the 15-year-old came home from his Duke of Edinburgh session ready to start yet another battle with his piece of GCSE coursework - a piece of creative writing. He doesn't see himself as a creative writer. And the brief his English teacher has given him is difficult. Take Macbeth and write a modern story using one of Macbeth's themes. He has chosen the hypocrisy of seeming to be a friend but leading a person to doom. Humph. Bit of a battle, that one, but at about 11pm he suddenly got the idea and wrote until 1am. Nice piece. He has got To Kill a Mockingbird as a set book. I am looking forward to that. It has to be more fun than Jane Eyre, which the oldest one has just finished doing as a GCSE book. Like Jane Eyre myself. but I did not enjoy doing battle with my adolescent north London reared son over his essays on it. And son number two has to do it as well. Damn.

Interwoven into that evening was talking through Bismarck and German unification with the 16-year-old. That took a bit of dredging in the tired, middle-aged memory banks. It is a year or two since I did Bismarck for my own history degree.

That was a fairly ordinary night. And a good one. Nobody had maths or geography. Or Spanish. Maths is my real bugbear. That, and physics and chemistry.

I don't mind my homework most of the time, but what I do mind is that sometimes there is so much of homework for each individual child - even in an inner city school - that things like the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, or the circus work shop, or cubs and music lessons, get dumped to make time.

If Mr Blair and Ms Shephard want children to exercise their intellects rather than slumping in front of the television, then they should say so. Simply saying they should be doing homework is too negative, too narrow.

If my children are to grow into the rounded, creative people Britain needs to be Great Once More, then they need to ride unicycles, play the flute, make bird boxes and even, sometimes, just go out to kick a ball aroundn