Pupils urged to do more at home

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The Government is to issue new guidelines on homework after research found pupils who studied most outside school hours did better in exams.

The guidance, to be published next month, will encourage schools and local authorities to have clear policies stressing the importance of "well- directed" and properly marked homework, though it will stop short of dictating a precise amount of time children should spend studying at home.

Instead, it will provide examples of good practice drawn from a study comparing two groups of secondary schools - seven picked out last year by Chris Woodhead, chief schools inspector, as high flying and seven with an average record.

The research found a clear correlation between exam success and the number of pupils given more than six hours' homework a week.

The Government's move comes a year after David Blunkett, shadow education spokesman, announced that Labour would lay down specific guidelines on homework hours. Mr Blunkett said last night: "All the evidence from overseas is that homework makes the biggest difference in overcoming socio- economic differences in family background."

Plans to give parents and teachers greater freedom to set up their own schools from scratch may be included in the Conservative's election manifesto.