Teenage burden rises as parents' demands grow

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The Independent Online
If your son claims his school never sets homework, you can be reasonably sure that he is lying. While some primary schools may only give optional homework, virtually all secondary schools set it.

David Blunkett was right when he said some primary children did as little as one hour a week. But some are doing as much as four hours and although there are no firm figures, half an hour each weekday is probably quite normal.

Earlier this year, schools inspectors published a report on homework which said that while there were wide variations, all primary schools sent tasks home. Most infants took home a book at least twice a week.

The amount of homework most pupils do rises steadily as they get older, and three hours a night is not unusual for a GCSE student. This makes our 16-year-olds more hard-working even than the Hungarians, who top the international homework table with nine hours a week. Girls do more homework than boys and independent school pupils do more than state school pupils.

Most teachers feel homework is valuable because it involves parents in their children's education, reinforces work covered in class, encourages independent study and prepares primary pupils for secondary school. But the inspectors noted that there was no hard evidence in this country to prove it actually led to higher standards. Their report criticised schools which set homework but did not mark it, which asked pupils to finish work that should have been done in class and which set tasks for which not all children had the resources at home.

Homework's detractors say that the end of the day is the least efficient time for learning because children are tired. They also argue that it covers up for time-wasting in school, restricts children's freedom and causes rows at home.

But studies from the United States show that children who do regularly marked homework do better than those who do not and a study of grammar school boys in this country has backed up the finding.

A majority of primary schools in this country started sending even the youngest children home with books 10 years ago after a study revealed that reading regularly with a parent improves a child's performance in school.

Most parents think homework is a good thing. Middle- class parents tend to be strident in their support of it and the inspectors visited one school in an affluent area which had to draw up a homework policy to limit their demands for more.