Homework contracts raise standards, report claims

Schools should establish homework contracts with parents to set out everyone’s responsibilities in making sure it gets done, according to a new report.

Pupils with parents who make sure they complete their homework before they do other activities score almost two points (1.93) higher in verbal reasoning tests aged 11, research from the Social Market Foundation has found.

Its authors are now recommending that schools and parents draw up a contract at the start of each year agreeing to keep in regular contact about their children’s progress.

Under former education secretary Michael Gove, the Department for Education chose to scrap statutory guidance which required schools to have a formal policy on how they would engage with parents in 2016, in a bid to cut “red tape” for headteachers.

However, the report wants teachers to sign a home-school contract in which they commit to setting “high-quality homework” and to supporting parents.

Meanwhile parents should commit to making sure homework is completed and to stay in touch with the school.

A survey of school leaders and pupils conducted on behalf of Ofsted in 2015, found around half of all children said their homework ‘never’ or ‘only sometimes’ helped them make progress.

Researchers also found pupils with parents who ensure they complete their homework make more progress between the ages of five and 11.

Kate Ryan, the principal of Christleton International Studio in Chester, which does not set homework, believes it causes too much stress at home.

Instead, pupils could sign up for sessions with teachers to complete independent work in “self-scheduled lessons”.

The school also offers sessions to parents on how to “support learning at home” without setting formal homework tasks. “We believe in the value of our pupils having free time to explore hobbies and interests,” she told Schools Week.

But the report gave Michaela Community free school in north London, whose chair of governors, the Conservative MP Suella Fernandes, also sat on the report’s commission board, as an example of where homework contracts with parents were a “cultural norm”.

The report quoted headteacher Katharine Birbalsingh (pictured), who said the school “made it clear we will hold not only the child to account, but to parents too”.

Schools use “vague” home-school contracts too often, she said, adding: “Before the parent signs, we emphasise just how important that signature is”.

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  1. As a loving parent, responsible for educating my children and satisfying that unquenchable human desire for knowledge and learning, I have always endeavoured to facilitate my children to “learn”. Pre-school, we used to walk the dogs through the countryside collecting grasses, making leaf patterns, snuggling up with books at home on rainy days, providing copious amounts of scribbling paper and pencils to do artwork. I chose to send my children to local primary school where they flourished under the guidance of a “happy” headteacher and learned to work hard, respect others and join in with all mannner of things like playing guitar, acting in the end of year play or designing experiments for a science festival. I expected homework and we got small regular weekly amounts – 10 sums, 20 spellings, a learning log project to be completed in the best way to suit a childs learning, e.g. coding project, animation or model-making. Brilliant. No problems. We have enjoyed many a “school showcase” where the children excitedly show their carers and peers what they have achieved. I also expect homework and a diary from secondary school. I regularly check to see if it is done or if there are any gaps in understanding that we can help with at home – be it a visit to an art museum or extra help with coding or English language terminology. I like to send my children to school to access the excellent specialist teachers and classroom support staff. However, any move towards distancing parental teamwork from their children’s school education would be a detrimental one.

    • Mark Watson

      I hope that, as a parent, I do the same with my son. I certainly try to. And if every parent was the same then schools, and indeed the whole of society, would be very different.
      But the problem is that we all know this is not the case.
      Like with so many things, I don’t think there is every going to be one answer which is the silver bullet for all schools. What seems to be working very well in Michaela Community free school might not work somewhere else. Perhaps the ‘no homework’ approach works for Christleton International Studio, its pupils and their parents.
      But as stated in the article Janet refers to below: “While it is the weakest pupils who benefit most from homework, it is also the weakest pupils who are least likely to complete it.” A rather overly-simplistic statement that will not always be true, but I bet it’s more right than wrong.
      I completely agree with you that education works best when parents and schools work well together, with parents supporting what the school does and being able to invest time in more general education that expands on what is done in the classroom. But when and where that doesn’t happen, schools should be trying to find a way to encourage a change. It will be better for the pupils, it will be better for society, and in the end it will be better for the schools too.

      • Janet Downs

        That Michaela tried and tested various homework strategies to find one that worked for them. Nowhere in that interesting article did the author refer to contracts and the rather aggressive ‘holding parents to account’.
        You’re right that schools work best when parents and schools co-operate. But this needs to be by encouragement not by force or by adopting a tone which suggests ‘we know best and if you don’t conform we’ll take action’.

        • Mark Watson

          Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you appear to be telling Michaela that you know best and that their way (holding children and parents to account, according to the head) is wrong.
          Perhaps they tried encouragement, perhaps it didn’t work. Without knowing all the details I would suggest that whatever the background they seem to have got it right. On that basis I find it hard to argue with their methods even if instinctively I too would prefer an ‘encouragement’ approach.