Homework refers to tasks given to pupils by their teachers to be completed outside of usual lessons. Common homework activities in secondary schools include completing tasks assigned in lessons, preparing for tasks in future lessons, routine coursework, and revision for tests and examinations. Our definition also includes activities such as ‘homework clubs’ where pupils have the opportunity to complete homework in school but outside normal school hours, and ‘flipped learning’ models, where pupils prepare at home for classroom discussion and application tasks.
The evidence shows that the impact of homework, on average, is five months’ additional progress. However, beneath this average there is a wide variation in potential impact, suggesting that how homework is set is likely to be very important.
There is some evidence that homework is most effective when used as a short and focused intervention (e.g. in the form of a project or specific target connected with a particular element of learning) with some exceptional studies showing up to eight additional months’ positive impact on attainment. Benefits are likely to be more modest, up to two to three months’ progress on average, if homework is more routinely set (e.g. learning vocabulary or completing practice tasks in mathematics every day).
Evidence also suggests that how homework relates to learning during normal school time is important. In the most effective examples homework was an integral part of learning, rather than an add-on. To maximise impact, it also appears to be important that students are provided with high quality feedback on their work (see Feedback).
Some studies indicate that there may be an optimum amount of homework of between one and two hours per school day (slightly longer for older pupils), with effects diminishing as the time that students spend on homework increases.
Before you implement this strategy in your learning environment, consider the following:
Planned and focused activities are more beneficial than homework which is more regular but may be routine or not linked with what is being learned in class.
The broader evidence suggests that homework should not be used as a punishment or penalty for poor performance.
A variety of tasks with different levels of challenge is likely to be beneficial.
The broader evidence suggests that the quality of homework is more important than the quantity. Pupils should receive specific and timely feedback on homework.
Have you made the purpose of homework clear to children (e.g. to increase a specific area of knowledge, or fluency in a particular area)?