Could There Be A Right To Less Homework?

By Benjamin Lowrie, Digital Producer 25 Sep 2018

A debate has kicked off online over whether UK children are given too much work, leaving many parents questioning whether homework is feeding their children’s education to the dogs.

British children are estimated to spend around 5 hours every week completing homework. This is less than the US (6.1), Spain (6.5), and the world leader China – whose students spend a frankly terrifying 13.8 hours every week on tasks outside of school hours.

Teachers, parents and celebrities poured into the debate on both sides, with some arguing that high levels of stress and competition are detrimental to children’s education. Others, including Piers Morgan, responded by lashing out at ‘lazy’ parenting.

Obviously, when it comes to homework, most of us stumbled upon the time-honoured and much beloved loophole: never actually doing any of it.

However, most research shows that there is a positive correlation between homework and educational attainment – so what is the right balance between home life and homework?

Is it the Parent’s Responsibility?

Image via Pixabay / ddimitrova

In 2014, a major report by the Department for Education found that students who spent two to three hours (well over double the estimated figure) on homework per night were ‘almost 10 times more likely’ to achieve 5 A*-C grades at GCSE compared to students who did none.

These figures aren’t surprising – of course the most dedicated students are more likely to get good exam grades.

While spending hours on homework might help a student’s grades, it can also cause problems. An Ofsted report on homework, which focused on parent’s views, singled out the ‘huge stress’ caused by assignments, claiming it ‘impacts negatively’ on their family life.

However, the report also found that a clear majority of parents at secondary level (87 per cent) felt homework was helpful to their children. This contrasted with greater opposition at primary school level, where just 64 per cent responded positively.

Data released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows that parental involvement in a child’s education is key. Students who spent a substantial amount of time talking with their parents were ‘two-thirds of a school year ahead in science learning.’

A significant educational advantage was retained even when accounting for socio-economic disadvantage.

However, not everyone agrees. A Colchester school recently banned homework to allow teachers more time to prepare lessons. While some parents praised the ‘brave’ initiative, others said the policy would see their children “fall behind.”

Dissenters argued that private tutors – not an expense every household can afford – could be required for some students to catch up. Homework returned to the school earlier this year.

Okay, So What are the Human Rights of Homework?

Image via Pixabay / ejlindstrom

Let’s get the obvious one out of the way: we all have a right to education. It’s one of our fundamental rights, enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It guarantees everyone access not only to an education, but also to one that’s free from discrimination.

In brief, the government must do everything in its power to enable access to educational institutions.

But the problem isn’t necessarily access – it’s also about equal opportunities. Homework places a burden on parents to help their children succeed at school. Some children may become disadvantaged if, for example, their parents have to work longer hours to pay the bills, or are simply less able to provide educational support than other parents.

Positive early education attainment correlates with strong performance later on, ultimately effecting people’s ability to find work as adults. Currently, just 35 per cent of working-age women educated to GCSE level are employed, compared to 80 per cent of those with a BA/BSc or similar.

Advantaged students are more likely than disadvantaged students to have an appropriate place to study at home and engaged parents who can convey positive messages about schooling and the importance of doing what is required by teachers.


This struggle for equal opportunity doesn’t end with parents. Many young people have to work to help support their households, a situation which is incompatible with an education system that expects the highest achievers to be pitching in an extra 15-20 hours every week.

Research published earlier this year by the Office for National Statistics showed that roughly a third of 16-17 year olds are actively in work, as well as many younger teenagers who work part-time.

Data reported by the OECD in 2012 demonstrated that homework has a positive impact on educational performance in most countries, with the UK performing slightly above average. But the data also found that homework can reinforce “socio-economic disparities in […] achievement.”

While they may not end the debate over homework, these findings should encourage educators to take steps to prevent disadvantaged students from falling behind.

Featured image via Pixabay.