Differences in homework completion and academic achievement between ethnic groups: A very brief analysis

This blog results from some research I am doing for a book on homework. It offers a very brief analysis, but no solutions to issues raised; essentially food for thought.

According to the DfE (2019), in the 2017/18 academic year, 75% of pupils of Chinese origin in the UK attained strong passes (grade 5 or above) in English and maths, whereas for white British pupils this figure stood at 42% and for pupils of black origin the figure decreased slightly to 39%. Clearly, in terms of demographic trends, ethnicity has an impact on academic achievement. 

Sociologists put forward different reasons for this: some may relate these disparities to the general socio-economic statuses of different ethnic groups; some may point to cultural deprivation or English as a foreign language; others may point to issues such as institutional racism and an ethnocentric curriculum (Wright, 1992; Gillborn & Youdell, 2000). On the other hand, a number of sociologists argue that factors such as hyper-masculinity can help explain educational underachievement within certain minority groups (Sewell, 1994); whereas Mac an Ghail (1998) pays particular attention to subcultures centred around ethnicity (although not all subcultures perceive education negatively).

Subsequently, the effect of homework on academic achievement is going to be highly contestable and complicated, but there are studies that have covered these issues. For example, in the UK, Strand (2011) has found that pupils of Indian ethnic origin had higher rates of achievement and reported spending longer studying at home. Strand also reported that pupils of African-Caribbean ethnic origin completed less homework and this was reflected in achievement.

Similarly, in the USA, Keith and Benson (1992; cited in Hallam & Rogers, 2018), found that Asian American pupils did more homework, which arguably impacts academic achievement. Other US researchers, such as Eren and Henderson (2011), found that the impact of homework for black pupils in the USA  was insignificant in maths, science and history and negative in English; in contrast, the impact of homework on achievement for Hispanic pupils was larger, particularly in science.

By way of a very brief conclusion, studies seem to suggest there are differences between ethnicity, time spent on homework and academic achievement. However, it is important to remember that these differences can be accounted for in various ways and may not be unique to any particular group nor representative of an ethnic group as a whole. It is also important to acknowledge that the reasons for this could be deep-seated and go far beyond how teachers set homework in the classroom. Possible solutions could involve further teacher training, compensatory education programmes and wider structural change. More research needs to be done to untangle issues of material deprivation from cultural deprivation as well as to account for stereotyping and other factors. That said, it is clear from the earlier blogs I have posted that all pupils can benefit from homework and that teachers should not be finding excuses as to why some pupils complete homework and others do not. 


DfE (2019). Key stage 4 performance (revised). DfE: London. Retrieved from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/key-stage-4-performance-2019-revised [accessed 01/06/2020].

Eren, O., & Henderson, D. J. (2011). Are we wasting our children’s time by giving them more homework? Economics of Education Review, 30(5), 950-961.

Gillborn, D. & Youdell, D. (2000). Rationing education: policy, practice, reform and equity. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Hallam, S. & Rogers, L. (2018). Homework: The Evidence. (London: UCL IoE Press).

Keith, T. Z., & Benson, M. J. (1992). Effects of manipulable influences on high school grades across five ethnic groups. The Journal of Educational Research, 86(2), 85–93.

Mac an Ghaill, M. (1988). Young, gifted, and black. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Sewell, T. (1994). Black masculinities and schooling: How black boys survive modern schooling. Trentham.

Strand, S., (2011). The limits of social class in explaining ethnic gaps in educational attainment. British Educational Research Journal, 37(2), 197-229.

Wright, C. (1992). Race relations in the primary school. London: Routledge.

Picture credit: Pixy.org (Used under a Creative Commons Licence)

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