4 top tips for setting the perfect primary school homework

For decades, primary school homework has been the subject of ongoing debates in the education sector. Its critics say that its benefits are negligible for younger children, often citing Professor John Hattie’s book Visible Learning, which makes the same point. However, it’s also worth bearing in mind the context of Hattie’s findings – in his book, he suggests that one of the main factors limiting its effectiveness is the nature of the tasks themselves. So, when your class take their school exercise books home, how can you ensure they’re getting the very most out of them? Here are our top recommendations!

4 top tips for setting the perfect primary school homework

Ensure it’s specifically relevant to classroom learning

Let’s be honest - you probably don’t need to be told this. But despite its obviousness, it’s still one of the single most important points, so it’s definitely worth starting with. The least effective types of homework tend to involve tasks set ‘for the sake of it’, or with the intention of fulfilling quotas or targets, with the actual content constituting little more than a secondary concern. Conversely, the most effective homework tends to be closely linked to what’s already been taught in the classroom.

What’s relevant here is the difference between working memory and long-term memory. Pupils rely heavily on working memory when they’re processing new information, especially at primary school, so moving on too quickly to new tasks or skills means they’re often likely to forget what they’ve just been taught. Homework tasks can help by reinforcing that classroom learning, helping students to transfer their new knowledge from working memory to long-term memory. That means, for example, a few long simple division exercises can be useful after introducing the concept in class, or some straightforward grammatical exercises to help pupils get to grips with a new rule in their own time.

Keep it short (and not too frequent)

Primary school children respond better to short, sharp exercises focused on the relevant topic. It helps them to stay focused and motivated, especially since it won’t interfere too much with their home life. If the task is too long or vague, their attention can quickly start to wander, which can affect the level of attainment they’re able to achieve, and limit its effectiveness in turn. Similarly, setting homework too often can quickly lead to fatigue.

Up until 2012, the Department of Education advised that Key Stage 1 children should do about an hour of homework each week, rising to half an hour per night in Key Stage 2. However, that recommendation was scrapped in 2012, giving schools a lot more freedom in their approaches. That means the frequency of homework is broadly up to you, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Years 1 and 2 students will probably have one or two tasks per week
  • Years 3 and 4 will have two activities each week
  • Years 5 and 6 pupils tend to have two or three pieces of homework each week
  • Reception age children are rarely set homework

All this is supported by the British Education Endowment Foundation, which says that “short focused tasks or activities which relate directly to what is being taught, and which are built upon in school, are likely to be more effective than regular daily homework."

parent helping with homework

Don’t forget you can use it as a base for future learning

As well as reinforcing lessons you’ve just taught, you can also use homework to introduce new topics you’re about to learn in class - of course, only if you feel the subject matter can be relatively easily grasped by your class when at home!

Introducing topics by way of homework can be useful because when children are at home, they have more time and space to think about a given subject in more depth. It can help build their knowledge, creativity, and confidence. This makes them increasingly likely to be more proactive during your lessons. For example you might find they’re more inquisitive, often asking more complex and detailed questions, and being more curious and enthusiastic in expanding their knowledge on the subject.

Connect with the parents

Even the most inquisitive parents aren’t always terribly up-to-speed on what their children are learning in class, since asking young children the question “how was your day?” tends to elicit more talk about friends and playgrounds than it does about classroom learning.

Homework can provide you with a useful opportunity to close that gap, helping parents to be more closely involved in their child’s learning, and enabling them to provide even greater help and support (especially with the subjects that their child might find more challenging). This support can be anything from sitting down with them to tackle some tough exercises, to building their knowledge and enthusiasm through other fun activities like family days out to museums and similar venues.

In 2017, respondents of Ofsted’s Parent Panel said that “homework enables them to feel part of their child’s learning and that it helps them to support that learning with other activities, such as visits to museums and home projects.” Cementing that relationship between pupil, parents and teachers can be hugely beneficial for your classroom learning, as parental support can make children more enthused, energised, and more likely to engage on a deeper level with the subject matter.

These are just a few general points - you might well be able to think of a few more specific tips of your own! Whatever the case, you can always rely on us here at EPSL to provide a huge range of school exercise books, teaching planners, and supplementary reading material, so that you and your class have everything you need to stay organised, motivated, and productive. With more than 40 years of experience behind us, we’re top of the class when it comes to producing resources and learning solutions for schools, so you can count on us to provide answers in as much or as little detail as you need. Feel free to give us a call on 01254 686 500!

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