How about some real ‘home’ work?

A policy forum is recommending ‘training in parenting’ to improve social mobility.

We have been here before of course. For decades now, there has been a lot of debate how schools can contribute to social mobility by involving parents in their children’s education. Homework is often the focus of this effort. But the value of homework is a highly contested issue, (especially since some schools thought it was a good idea to give it to five and six year olds recently). I’ve even heard of a secondary school who were helping to “train parents to help with exam revision”.

Good luck.

I am not against pupils and students taking ‘school’ work (set by teachers) home to practise or reinforce or research – I think that’s essential for (particularly older) children learning how to study.

But homework has also been thought by many to be a good vehicle for involving parents in their children’s learning. In my own career we had some very successful evenings where we invited parents in to school to do a variety of practical activities that demonstrated and explained how we, as teachers, taught various aspects of maths, reading or writing and offered ideas of how parents could support that.

I hope most parents went away feeling empowered rather than patronised. But if there was one thing I learned from all those ‘family literacy’ and ‘family numeracy’ evenings, it was that for most parents, even well educated middle class parents with greater access to resources, ‘home’ work is really not ‘home’ work at all – it is in fact ‘school’ work, going home.

And there’s the rub.

Parents can’t necessarily interpret homework in the way teachers intend. If you are a parent trying to help your child with homework, either you are anxiously thinking: “This is not the way they did it when I was at school… Help!” or your child is complaining “Dad… my teacher doesn’t do it like that…!”

I think if we really want to make successful inroads to meaningful involvement and partnerships with parents we need to think more about helping parents turn the everyday but implicit resources and opportunities they have at home in to everyday but explicit resources and opportunities. The role of the teacher here is not to ‘invade the home’ with ‘school’ work but to support parents in realising that learning is just as much about what goes on at home as it is about what goes on in school.

Just to give you one example: cookery. As a teacher, you won’t need an explanation of how much language, reading & writing, maths & science, let alone other ‘curriculum’ areas are covered by doing cookery activities. Let alone the fun it can engender and the myriad skills it can develop.

But parents just might need some encouragement and support for the idea that what they do every day at home actually counts as part of their child’s education.

Yes of course students need to top up what goes on at school with study at home.

But let’s give ‘what goes on at home’ some educational credence too. Parents might thank us for that.


If you’re interested in some recent research on this, have a look at the edcoms research on homework and revision.


10 thoughts on “How about some real ‘home’ work?

  1. At our parent meeting in a couple of weeks I’m going to suggest to parents that they could do their child’s reading while they cook dinner by getting their child to help out by reading the recipe. No excuses that you don’t have enough time.

  2. Great post. I agree with all you said. The quickest book-smart math students I’ve met are not automatically able to translate the calculations needed in the kitchen to halve or double a recipe. Too bad parents have relegated their “home” work and now have to be told to be partners in their child’s education. There is so much to learn that schools can’t teach. Parents are so important!

    My blog: Dare to Care

    1. So true Denise, so true. The more parents can understand that they are the best primary educator of their child, and that all worldly experience can produce valuable learning, the better their children will perform at the routine tasks which a traditional homework piece would comprise of.

  3. I agree. Giving out a worksheet is more about me being seen to do my job properly. It is a shame when some parents question the value of more creative homework tasks, or oral homework, instead regarding a list of calculations as ‘real’ homework.
    I like the idea of ‘family literacy’ etc that could help parents better understand their role as educator in the home and what that might involve.

    1. Thanks Laura. I think it’s always wise to think of teachers as the experts with their own clients (pupils) in their own professional space (school) and parents the experts with their own children in their own home. It seems an obvious thing to say, but I’m not sure it guides much of what we do with ‘parental partnership” initiatives.

  4. Last week I threw a little tantrum (well out of ear shot of my nine-yr-old) when I found yet another worksheet in her homework bag. Why? Because I know this kind of ‘homework’ – which is typical – is not only completely useless, but enormously destructive. What does my child learn from them? Whether she is ‘right’ or wrong’. What is she being trained/programmed to be? Right. Really? Still?

    There is an enormous opportunity for all parents to engage and support their child’s learning by doing one simple thing: talking. Open-ended, no right or wrong answer questions to discuss at home are an easy and creative habit to get into every day.

    Cooking is great – but talking is even easier. Example: this morning, in a rush to get out the door in time, my daughter pulled out her 12-page Science worksheet (!!!) booklet with some questions that needed to be completed. We hurriedly went online to find as much information as we could about the Royal Tyrell Museum in Alberta and their scientists and discovered what ended up being the topic of lively conversation for the rest of the morning: there was not a single woman in their entire line-up of scientists and researchers. Try tackling the ‘why?’ of that question with a young girl in grade 4 struggling to appreciate science. Now that’s good ‘homework’.

    1. Hi Hayley – what an excellent post – thank you very much. You are right about my cooking example – why do parents have to be “doing something” all the time? Your advice is so much better – what’s wrong with teachers encouraging parents by affirming the value of regular, intelligent, engaging conversation? That’s the best advice I’ve heard. Thank you. (now you’ve made want to re-write the blog..! 😉

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