David Blunkett told local authority representatives that some children spent just one hour a week doing homework but spent two and a half hours every night watching television.
In a speech which appeared to reinforce recent hard-line Labour statements on schools - the party has already announced plans to tackle bad teaching and to close failing schools in order to give them a "fresh start - he said a Labour government would issue new guidelines on homework.
He argued that Britain's competitors in the Pacific Rim were successful because they set more homework. One and a half hours per night for a primary school child was not unusual in these countries.
"It is a worrying fact that primary school children in this country are spending as much as 12 times longer watching television at home than doing homework. The question, 'what did you do at school today?' falls on deaf ears. School - or more importantly learning - is shut out until the following morning," he told the Association of Metropolitan Authorities' conference in Wakefield.
Mr Blunkett said Manningtree school in Essex had opened an innovative "homelink" telephone line after finding that new pupils' biggest worry was getting home to find they had not written their homework in their diaries.
In Humberside, parents are encouraged to start working with their children even before they start school so that they have started to learn to read before they arrive there.
In Liverpool, the Prince's Trust had set up study support centres so that secondary pupils had somewhere quiet to do their homework, he said.
Last night a spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said the Government already encouraged schools to have clear, written homework policies.
Teachers' unions welcomed the announcement last night but said they would not welcome new initiatives which put more pressure on them.
The move is likely to prove popular with parents, though. A recent Harris poll showed that 96 per cent of the public believed parents should encourage their children to do more homework, rather than watch television.
How much homework should children do?
Most schools set between one and four hours work per week.
Children should spend time each day reading with their parents.
Parents should help their children to spell words and to make sentences.
Year-two children might be given simple sums to learn at home, on which they would be tested once a week at school.
Some schools might set simple science experiments to do at home.Reuse content