Homework: Take It Or Leave It

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Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Can homework be used as a teaching and learning tool?

Lots of teachers dish it out by the bucket-load and in many cases rather pointlessly and aimlessly. Many parents say they want it even though it causes enormous grief and arguments galore. Many children don’t want it but get it anyway. Some don’t do it, some lose it, some outsource it to Google, some don’t do it at home, and some commit to it so seriously they over-do it and over-sleep because of it.

Homework is a sacred cow, gloriously contentious and a decades-long binary ‘classic’ debate that refuses to go away. It’s sticky, thorny and sometimes turns nasty with the spitting of venom and plenty of finger-pointing.

For or against?

Some schools live by it and see homework as ‘an essential’ whereas other schools have effectively banned it and gone down the ‘no homework policy’ route along with ‘no marking’ and ‘no uniforms’. Ask some people and they will tell you that homework is a black hole that tears at the fabric of home-life, it kills learning and widens the attainment gap, ask others and they say, romantically, that “Great teachers set great homework” and homework makes a massive difference to the learning process. From grumblers to degrumblers, whether homework ‘works’ is far from simple but a lot does depend on where you look and what age group you teach.

What does the research say?

There is no evidence of any academic benefit supporting the value of homework for primary age children and education top-dog John Hattie says that “it has an effect of zero” –  Alfie Kohn (2006) in The Homework Myth says that schools need to set their default setting to ‘no homework’.

Paul Moss disagrees and encourages us to reframe our thinking around homework. He argues that any research into the effects of homework is worthless because the meta-analysis didn’t unearth the important work that isolates the diverse variables that can impact the outcome in determining a positive relationship between homework and achievement. Paul says,

In Hattie’s own words, when homework isn’t deliberate practice, it is pointless. In relation to this site, there has not been any research that controlled the three essential principals of satisfactory tasks: quality, setting responsively, and amount of work proportional to spare time. Without such conditions being met, the effect size linking homework to achievement is invalid.

Paul says that too much of what we hear about homework is negative but homework can help as a new strategy to improve learning. He argues that we need to safeguard 2 key things: (1) the content taught is secure in students’ minds and (2) the content taught can be recalled easily when required. In essence, any homework has to be relevant, extremely relevant.

Hattie says homework should not be eradicated but focused. He also points out that  “in high school, the benefit goes up considerably” and it should never include parental involvement,

Most high school homework is a chance to practise what they’ve learnt that day, and they can do it by themselves, which is good.


Too much, too little or just about right, homework might very well be a Goldilocks issue for many parents but Mark Creasy says we need to turn the age-old concept of homework on its head and embrace unhomework. Unhomework is where children set their own learning and targets for homework and then it is self and/or peer-assessed. He believes that teachers need to give the first half term over to training the children in how to understand unhomework to secure the right environment for success. He recommends establishing the 5Rs of respect, relationships, resilience, responsibilities and rights and says that in the first term we need to set lots of options – gold, silver or bronze – for the children to choose from. Mark says that unhomework is “a way to make homework more purposeful and inspire students to want to complete it for their own benefit.”

Watch Mark explain what this is here.


Creating open-ended opportunities for creativity and choice removes the drudgery from homework (or unhomework) because it gives it meaning. I recognised this when teaching in my last post where I created an alternative version for setting homework.

Take Away Homework is a portable homework solution for teachers, teaching multiple subjects; age-groups and in a large number of classrooms. It is differentiated; personalised; self-selecting; inspiring; rewarding and medium-term learning. I have calculated carefully, that differentiated; targeted and independent homework, followed with targeted feedback, leads to student ownership and improved levels of progress. Of course, do not forget to give students time to improve; reflect and act on feedback given – following a piece of homework handed in. How is it done? It’s not rocket science but it could be – consider a Take-Away Homework menu or a lottery with pre-planned tasks for students to select on a lucky-dip basis. My suggestions for getting started:

  • Write a list of 30-50 homework ideas for a key stage, project or year group.
  • Now divide this homework into sections. For example; Research; Development; Evaluation.
  • Add in a few seasonal homework to complete at Easter, Christmas and over the summer holidays.
  • Decide if you want to place the homework in a sequential order using a subject-specific, assessment criteria. Adding success-criteria make remove the exciting aspect of a Takeaway, or add incentives to improve…
  • Add a simple statement describing each homework and what is needed. No more than a sentence.
  • Make sure each-homework can literally be read there and then and is a ‘Takeaway’. This means it requires no further guidance.
  • Decide on what method you will use to display this resource. A huge banner? A tombola? Using the interactive whiteboard and a lottery-number selector? Simply laminated and stuck to the wall? As the back of all students’ exercise books?
  • Consider setting one random Takeaway homework once a half-term (as well as regular homework).
  • Consider adding all your Takeaway homework tasks to this online random selector: www.bit.ly/TakeAwayHomework

Despite its criticisms of being ‘Poundland Pegagogy’ – many have lost in translation its gains without considering the assessment that sits alongside it; will you mark the homework or not – lots of teachers across many subjects have tried #TakeAwayHmk with great success and doesn’t look destined to be fish and chip paper because it is misunderstood and misinterpreted.

Whether we think homework adds value, well, that’s another question … but I do think homework (or home-learning) is here to stay. Also, check out Russel Tarr’s post on Takeaway Homework.

Takeaway homework is idea 41 from my 100 Ideas: Outstanding Lessons book (2013).

5 thoughts on “Homework: Take It Or Leave It

  1. I don’t agree with homework for primary, just daily reading. For secondary, online differentiated and targeted like HegartyMaths is fun and has positive impact.

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