Schoolboys (and girls) creeping to school with satchels full of homework. Shakespeare knew about it, and boy do our children know about it. And now here’s that Sir Michael Wilshaw bending his cane and telling parents that we should be fined if we don’t ensure our offspring get it done. Every night.
Sir Michael, the chief inspector of schools, is on the warpath about “bad parents” – especially, he says, white, working-class ones – who can’t be bothered to read to their children, or turn up for their parents’ evenings, or make them do their homework.
Well, Sir Michael, I do have a bit of a love/hate thing with homework going on. I hate it when my children don’t do it, and I love doing it for them. Indeed, my son once achieved the highest ever grade for a Year 7 Project when he handed in what I have to say was a superb piece of work on Andy Warhol. A folder devoted to the artist, complete with timeline, famous sayings, poems, drawings, postcards, even a reference to David Bowie’s seminal song on the artist from his album Hunky Dory. What a joy it was to see that A++ mark on the bottom, in red ink. But then, as arts correspondent of the BBC at the time, I deserved nothing less.
But Sir Michael, I have seen the error of my ways. I no longer do my children’s homework for them. Do I insist they do it, however? You bet I do. Nag nag nag. That’s me. I will never get the Wilshaw penalty. “Have you done your homework yet? No, you can’t watch the Simpsons/How I Met Your Mother, not until you have done your homework.” My latest ruse is bribery with Panini Brazil World Cup stickers. Two if you eat your supper, four if you do your homework. Needs must, Sir Michael.
I think it is my duty to be a right pain in the backside about homework to my lot, two of whom are at secondary school and thus have backpacks full of the stuff, and two who are at primary school (and thus have hardly any, bar the odd spelling test, but you wait).
It’s not just because they will get detentions if homework is not completed. Getting your children to do homework is part of the parenting deal. Got to be. It’s quite easy to be bright and switched on in class, where promptings from the teacher or peers can help a child along. It’s a bit tougher, however, to carry on the subject at home alone.
But that’s the only way you are going to learn. Hours and hours of doing and redoing work at your desk, or the kitchen table, or the sitting room floor (I don’t really care where it takes place, as long as the TV is off). There is a lot to learn, but learn it they must, otherwise your sprog is never going to soar over the plentiful hurdles which the modern-day British child is obliged to face during his or her 13-year school stint.
And then there’s university, and the rest. The discipline of sitting down and doing homework is a valuable lesson, since it never really goes away. It is an unfashionable truth, but if you do your homework the night before, the day job goes a lot easier.
Knowing this, and knowing that the default position of the average British child is one that usually suffers a strong gravitational pull towards Facebook or the iPod, parents or carers simply need to put up with the homework parrot on their shoulder, squawking “Have you done it yet?” every weekday night of the year. Otherwise, we will have Sir Michael on our backs, squawking in turn at us and hitting us where it hurts, namely our pockets. And we don’t want that, class of Mum and Dad, do we?