The Homework Struggle
Jun 24, 2014
In 2012 in a rare fit of common sense, Education Secretary Michael Gove scrapped national guidelines which set out how much time children should spend doing homework each night.
Instead, head teachers can now decide how much extra study, if any, their pupils require, so if your child is getting too much or too little then at least there’s someone you can speak to about it (the head teacher) rather than having to blame the government. Strange how Mr Gove has done the reverse when it comes to school absence… but that’s another story.
In fact new UTCs such as Warwick WMG Academy aim to do away with homework altogether and operate on a more work-like schedule – their core hours are 08:30 to 16:30 and students, who are aged from Years 10 to 13, will be expected to do a further 4 hours per week of activities, which can be sports, games, project work, extra study or something organised by the students. There is no further homework set, so school is school and home is home. Maybe this is an approach mainstream schools could consider in the future.
For now though kids are mostly stuck with the weekly, sometimes daily, tasks of reading, learning times tables, maths, memorising German vocabulary, or battling with Shakespeare or Steinbeck. Getting them to do this extra work can often be a struggle.
In the end, children need to take responsibility for doing their homework. As they mature and approach their GCSEs this becomes increasingly clear to them, but those early teenage years can be difficult, as homework is seen simply as something to be avoided at all costs.
The simplest and most obvious parental approach is to nag your child until he gives in and does it. This isn’t teaching him self-discipline, and he will likely dislike homework even more if the whole subject becomes a power struggle each night. But what are the alternatives?
Some strategies are below – these should be mixed and matched to achieve the right balance for your child:
Accept the Consequences
If he fails to hand in a piece of homework it’s likely there will be a consequence at school, an in-class dressing down, a missed break or a detention perhaps. Sometimes it’s best just to let this happen, so he can understand that it’s the school that is asking him to do the work, not you, so he can’t resent you for having homework in the first place! This is one of those important life lessons that kids just have to go through, like falling off a bike.
Incentivise and Reward
The promise of a bright future is not going to motivate a 13-year-old to do his homework, not when there’s an Xbox sat alluringly next to the TV.
You can motivate your child to get his homework done by setting limits on their electronics or other activities, so that they can only go on the Xbox once their maths is finished, for example. One disadvantage with this is you will have to check they’re putting in the effort and not rushing through the work to get it done quicker. But at least if he chooses not to do his work then instead of having to start nagging him, the sanction is simply to refuse access to his electronics. Fair’s fair, and this is easy to understand for a youngster.
Psychologists suggest the best way to reward children in these situations is to give them something afterwards that they weren't expecting, so rather then ‘bribing’ them directly with promises of console or iPad time, buy them a thank you gift every now and then “for trying hard and getting your homework done”. This is a more adult way of rewarding, so more suited to older children who will understand the connection.
Kids are getting ever more capable of doing three things at once, so they will think nothing of trying to watch TV and Skype their friends whilst trying to learn French future tenses... and then they’ll grumble about hard it is to learn French. Don’t allow homework in front of the TV for a start. If necessary get them to do homework at the kitchen table or wherever you can moderate what else is going on in the room. It doesn’t have to be library-silent, in fact bit of Mozart is supposed to help during studying! Metallica - not so much.
Most adults need a period of recovery when they get in from work so why expect children to be any different? Let them have some down time doing whatever they like to do, before mentioning "the h-word".
Take an Interest
Don't give your child the answers - but do ask questions about their homework and show an interest. Add some context if you can - quite often kids think homework is a "waste of time" because they don’t see why they need to be declining nouns or writing about the causes of the Great War. If you can talk to them about the subject (or at least ask sensible questions) it will help them feel the work is more valuable and worthwhile.
In the end you should talk to your child's teacher if they are continually struggling to do their homework. Your child needs to understand what is expected of them, and hearing it from a teacher can really make a difference. You may even agree that the homework load is too great, or too much loaded on certain days, and come to a compromise that suits everyone.
Too much homework can really turn a child off education so it’s important to keep an eye on how it’s affecting your child. Don’t be afraid to challenge the school if you think there is too much or too little homework, since now the decision on this lies with the head teacher.