How much homework is the right amount?

Many parents worry that their child is doing too much, or too little, school work at home.

While homework volumes vary considerably from school to school and even teacher to teacher; by secondary school, almost all students are expected to do some homework on a daily or weekly basis.

A 2014 OECD report found that Australian 15-year-olds spend an average of six hours a week on homework. This is slightly more than the international average of five hours per week and significantly less than the 13.8 hours Shanghai’s students allocate to homework every week.

The picture is quite different at Australia’s independent schools though, where 15-year-olds devote an average of nine hours a week to homework.

In NSW, the Department of Education offers guidelines but no set minimum homework requirements, leaving it up to schools to determine their own policies in consultation with parents and teachers.

Nonetheless, the department’s policy is that homework is a “valuable part of schooling” that “allows for practising, extending and consolidating work done in class. Additionally, it establishes habits of study, concentration and self-discipline.”

The Scots College in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs supports the department’s view, saying that its philosophy concerning home learning is premised on three principles:

* Home learning consolidates work in class without being new work.
* Home learning is showed off rather than being assessed.
* Home learning is driven by the student’s interests and needs.

As an example, Scots suggests this daily homework schedule for years 7 and 8:

* 20 minutes of Maths
* 10 minutes of language/instrument practice
* 10 minutes of reading
* Respond to the question “What else do I need to do?”

The last point allows students “an opportunity to expand on their studies, finish incomplete work or try to work through a problem in their studies,” Scots says. As well, the school expects students to dedicate home learning time to each of their subjects every week.

Similar guidelines are offered by Danebank Anglican School for Girls in Sydney’s South. The school’s policy states that, homework “should be appropriate to the student’s skill level and age; interesting, challenging, purposeful, and meaningful in helping students develop their knowledge and skills at all times.”

Taking these factors into account, Danebank outlines a daily homework schedule for years K-12:

Kinder and Year 1: No more than 20 mins
Year 2: No more than 30 mins
Year 3 and 4: 30–45 mins
Year 5 and 6: 1 hour
Year 7 and 8: 1½ hours
Year 9 and 10: 2 hours
Year 11: 3 hours
Year 12: 3½ hours

The emphasis on homework at independent schools is well-founded. OECD data shows that extra study at home is rewarded by better test scores, as evidenced by the results of its 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) – a series of standardised tests similar to NAPLAN.

Testing of more than 28 million 15-year-olds in 65 countries showed that among the highest achieving schools in the Maths component, “students saw an increase of 17 score points or more per extra hour of homework.”

International research shows that relevant homework in reasonable doses has positive benefits for students overall, particularly at the high school level.

In terms of how much time students should put into it, Duke University psychology professor and author of The Battle over Homework, Harris Cooper, endorses the “10-Minute Rule” – multiply the year level by 10 to get a rough estimate of how many minutes of homework students should be doing on a daily basis. Academically-focused and senior students should aim to do a bit more.

Most important though for Cooper is balance.

“My feeling is that the effect of homework depends on how well or poorly it is used. Teachers should avoid extremes. All children will benefit from homework but it is a rare child who will benefit from hours and hours of homework,” Cooper cautions.

Read more:

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Education at Glance report, 2014

NSW Department of Education and Communities Homework Policy document, May 2012

How much home learning should my son be doing? – Ryan Smartt, Coordinator of Studies and Academic Staffing, The Scots College

Danebank Anglican School for Girls Homework Policy K-12

Students in these countries spend the most time doing homework – Sonali Kohli,, December 12, 2014

Homework’s diminishing returns – Harris Cooper, New York Times, December 12, 2010