Research Myth 10: Homework ‘Works’

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Does setting homework make a difference?

It has been described as an inefficient, jaded and bankrupt practice.

Dylan Wiliam said once that “most homework teachers set is crap.”

Alfie Kohn (2006) in ‘The Homework Myth’ thinks schools should set their default policy to ‘no homework’.

Why? There is no evidence of any academic benefit supporting the value of homework for primary age children (John Hattie says it “has an effect of zero”) and there are grim uncertainties about whether homework benefits older students.

Even though Hattie says that 5-10 minutes of practising what was taught that day at school has the same effect as 1-2 hours does, an OECD report on data from the PISA survey looked at homework among 15-year-olds and found socio-economically advantaged students and those who attended socio-economically advantaged schools tended to spend more time doing homework than other students which could perpetuate inequalities in education.

Is homework a meaningful contribution to learning?

Does it promote higher achievement and teach study skills and responsibility?


It’s all pain for no gain and schools have proven that educational excellence is possible by ditching it and that it could (further) widen inequality.

As Matt Miller and Alice Keeler say in their book Ditch That Homework,

When you employ modern teaching techniques to optimise learning to its peak in the classroom, it becomes possible to accomplish all that you need to do during the school day, which makes homework less and less of a necessity. Until, one day, you are able to ditch it. Completely.


Read the full Research Myths series.

2 thoughts on “Research Myth 10: Homework ‘Works’

  1. Very interesting read. One that I am struggling with however is homework being described as a myth. I don’t think the sources you’ve picked out support your thoughts either. In the link you gave, Hattie explained that homework in primary has an effect of zero (but it’s higher in secondary). He went on to suggest schools should use this as “low hanging fruit” to improve – make homework count! It was suggested that some parents judge a school on the homework and therefore eliminating it may not be the solution.

    Hattie briefly goes on to say the worse kinds of homework are projects and the best are activities reinforcing what is already learned in school. He has not referred to evidence of this in the clip but given it’s Hattie I assume this is implied. I feel this is absolutely necessary as a UK science teacher where there is now so much material to be learned that allocated lesson time does not allow for enough practice of using knowledge.

    The PISA article states that homework could be widening educational inequality as you say, but is removing homework from a school policy really the answer here? The paper shows that on average, homework resulted in better scores in maths. Of course disadvantaged students may not have access to study spaces or support at home but as the paper suggests, couldn’t schools offer some level of this?

    An ethical question could be raised on the subject of ditching homework, given that it can have a positive effect on attainment. Surely we need to instead make sure that the homework we set is not “crap”!

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