First published on the Herts & Bucks TSA blog on 5 November 2017 and then the Reach Free CPD blog on 9 November 2017. This blog forms part of a wider TSA project on the relevance and impact of homework (click her for more details).
The relevance and impact of homework on learning and pupil progress continues to be a source of controversy amongst pupils, parents, senior leaders and governors. There is already a huge amount of academic research on the purpose, impact and value of homework. Nonetheless, overviews of these studies (see below) show that any concrete conclusions on its benefits, relevance and impact are highly debatable. Moreover, there is plenty of evidence suggesting that homework may have negative effects on learning and pupils well-being (see Cowan & Hallam, 1999 and Kohn, 2006, for example).
Harris Cooper (1989; 2006) has conducted a couple of major meta-analyses on the impact of homework. He has analysed studies dating back to 1897 in which researchers claimed conflicting results with regard to homework and its impact on pupil achievement. Nevertheless, his initial review, involving 48 comparisons between pupils who did and did not receive homework, showed that 73% of those receiving regular homework had higher attainment scores. His additional reviews showed that the correlation of test scores and how much homework pupils generally receive are positive despite the possibility of other factors influencing the outcomes. The two reviews combined involved approximately 180 studies in total.
Studies by the DfE have also shown how homework can positive impact pupils’ overall attainment. This seems to suggest that their studies of pupils in England and Wales corresponds to Cooper’s studies of pupils in the USA. For instance, DfE researchers have noted the strong evidence that pupils who reported spending 2-3 hours doing homework on a typical school night attained higher grades on average than those who did not (see Sammons et. al, 2014). Moreover, pupils in Year 9 who reported spending between 2 and 3 hours on homework on an average weeknight were almost 10 times more likely to achieve 5 A*-C grades than pupils who did not spend any time on homework (ibid).
A similarly strong result was found for the time spent on homework reported in Year 11. The researchers noted “the moderate to strong positive effects of time spent on homework” that were found for total GCSE scores, including specific GCSE grades and benchmark indicators, as well as overall academic progress and progress in specific subjects (ibid).
IS THE RESEARCH LIMITED? WHAT DOES IT REALLY TELL US?
Although, overall, homework has a positive impact on pupils’ academic outcomes at secondary level (Cooper, 1989; Cooper et al., 2006; Sammons et. al., 2014), most of the research indicating the positive impact of homework does not question the impact of different types of homework assignment on learning and pupil attainment. Are we essentially looking at quantity over quality or does quality trump quantity and make these existing studies redundant if re-examined in the context of well designed, set and assessed homework? Indeed, research by Darling-Hammond & Ifill-Lynch (2006) suggests that teachers should continue to set homework, but also make it authentic, meaningful, and engaging (Darling-Hammond & Ifill-Lynch, 2006). This view is also advocated by Vatterott (2009).
Moreover, whilst the impact of time spent on homework is clearly evident, we have no way of knowing whether these pupils are better off financially, have greater parental support and cultural capital at home. This is a fact highlighted by Harris Cooper himself amongst others (Cooper et al., 2006; OECD, 2014; Eren & Henderson, 2011). Furthermore, the meta-analyses mentioned above do not tell us anything about the pupils’ own management of homework in relation to time spent on various subjects or their triaging of their own needs; this could vary between demographics, schools and classes. Thus, researchers have warned about how homework is used. For example, Fernández-Alonso et al. (2015) argue that assigning too much homework can result in poor pupil performance.
HOW RELIABLE IS THIS BACKGROUND RESEARCH?
According to the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), homework has been extensively studied. However, studies have mainly looked at the correlation between homework and how well schools perform. It is certainly the case that schools whose pupils do homework tend to perform well, but it is less clear that the homework is the reason why they are successful. There are a smaller number of studies that have investigated and compared what happens when homework is introduced to certain classes with classes where homework is not given; these studies tend to show that homework is beneficial, though the evidence is not particularly secure.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
Cooper, H. (1989) Synthesis of research on homework in Educational leadership, Vol. 47, Issue 3, pp. 85-91.
Cooper, H. (2010) Homework’s Diminishing Returns. The New York Times.
Cooper, H., Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006) Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987–2003 in Review of Educational Research, Vol 76, Issue 1, pp. 1 – 62.
Cowan, R. & Hallam, S. (1999) ‘What do we know about homework?’ in S. Hallam (2004) Homework: the evidence (London: Institute of Education, University of London), pp. 8-9.
Darling-Hammond, L., & Ifill-Lynch, O. (2006) If They’d Only Do Their Work! in Educational Leadership, Vol 63, Issue 5, pp. 8-13.
Educational Endowment Foundation (2017) Homework (Secondary). (Online: EEF).
Eren, O., & Henderson, D. J. (2011) Are we wasting our children’s time by giving them more homework? in Economics of Education Review, Vol 30, Issue 5, pp. 950-961.
Fernández-Alonso, R., Suárez-Álvarez, J., & Muñiz, J. (2015, March 16) Adolescents’ Homework Performance in Mathematics and Science: Personal Factors and Teaching Practices in Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.
Hallam, S. (2004) Homework: the evidence. (London: Institute of Education, University of London)
Jerrim, J. (2017) Extra Time: Private Tuition and Out of school Study, New International Evidence. (London: The Sutton Trust)
Kohn, A. (2006) The homework myth: Why our kids get too much of a bad thing. (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Life Long)
OECD (2014) Does Homework Perpetuate Inequities in Education? in PISA in Focus, No. 46, OECD Publishing, Paris.
Patall, E. A., Cooper, H., & Robinson, J. C. (2008) Parent involvement in homework: A research synthesis in Review of Educational Research, Vol. 78, Issue 4, 1039-1101.
Sammons et. al (2014) Influences on students’ GCSE attainment and progress at age 16 (DfE: London)
Sharpe, C., Keys, W. and Benefield, P. (2001) Homework: A Review of Research. (Slough: NFER)
Van Voorhis, F. L. (2003) Interactive homework in middle school: Effects on family involvement and science achievement in The Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 96, Issue 6, pp. 323-338.
Vatterott, C. (2009) Rethinking homework: Best practices that support diverse needs. (Alexandria, VA: ASCD)
Walker, J. M., Hoover-Dempsey, K. V., Whetsel, D. R., & Green, C. L. (2004) Parental involvement in homework: A review of current research and its implications for teachers, after school program staff, and parent leaders. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Family Research Project.
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