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

Getting the most out of parent teacher interviews

As term 1 comes to a close, schools will soon be hosting parent teacher interviews. These meetings are a valuable opportunity for parents to attain greater insight into their child’s progress, academically and socially.

Speaking one-on-one with teachers allows parents to canvass their child’s areas of strength and weakness and to coordinate effectively with the school to provide more support if needed. Parents can also discuss a range of issues that may be affecting a child’s school life beyond the classroom.

Parent teacher interviews are usually restricted to 10 or 15 minutes so it’s important to come prepared with questions that will elicit the most information in the shortest time.

Trinity Grammar recommends parents ask these three essential questions:

1. What are my child’s strengths?
To determine where they’re performing best and what their current level of achievement is.

2. Are there any areas of concern?
Not just academically but also behaviourally or emotionally.

3. What are the upcoming focus areas of the curriculum and how best can we support my child?
Clear goals make it easier for parents to work with teachers to help children achieve to the utmost of their ability.

Parents may also find it helpful to ask questions about specific aspects of their child’s schooling such as homework, discipline measures and school expectations around behaviour, uniform and punctuality.

This is an occasion for parents to forge a strong partnership with teachers and, where needed, formulate a plan to improve their child’s learning outcomes.

“The key to a successful interview is to make sure that you are prepared, listen to advice and finish with an agreed way forward,” The Scots College counsels. “While parents are occasionally not happy with the progress of their children, the importance of parent-teacher-student interviews cannot be underestimated, especially in kick starting a change in attitude or direction.”

The NSW Department of Education urges parents to make it a positive experience by highlighting children’s accomplishments and ensuring that they are on-board with any agreed academic or behavioural strategies: “It’s important to discuss the meeting with your child and really congratulate them on their strengths. If the teacher made suggestions of things you could do at home, discuss these with your child and commit to following through with them.”

Each child is different and parents will have varying concerns. Some parents may feel that attending the parent teacher interview is unnecessary as their child is doing quite well and there are no issues to raise with the school.

But parent teacher interviews aren’t only about addressing problems, they’re also about celebrating a child’s achievements and engagement in the school community.

As the NSW Department of Education warns: “If you don’t go to parent teacher interviews, you’re also missing out on the chance to hear really positive things about your child that they may not tell you themselves. It’s equally rewarding for teachers to share good news with a parent.”

No matter what a child’s situation, the parent teacher interview is a critical communications channel between school and family. Make the most of it to optimise your child’s chances of success.

Read more:

Three essential questions to ask at parent teacher interviews – Trinity Grammar School, March 5, 2016

How to get the most out of parent teacher interviews – The Scots College, February 4, 2016

Parent teacher interviews – NSW Department of Education Schools A-Z website