Case study

Hub Spotlight: Herts and Bucks collaborative research

Andrew Jones, Assistant Headteacher at The Reach Free School and co-manager of the Herts and Bucks Hub explains a collaborative hub research project on maximising the impact of homework.

What was the challenge?

A vast amount of academic research on the relevance and impact of homework has been published. However, an overview of the research investigating the benefits of homework on pupil progress shows that any concrete agreement on its benefit is inconclusive. There is also evidence that suggests homework may have negative effects on learning. Therefore, as we all set homework and often stress its importance to pupils and parents, the senior leaders from the Herts and Bucks Challenge Partners hub questioned whether we were approaching homework in the right way, especially as it can be quite a divisive issue between pupils, parents, teachers and other stakeholders.

How did the hub respond?

The hub set up a joint research project into assorted homework issues during the 2017–18 academic year. We used existing expertise within the hub to help facilitate the research process, including access to the University of Cambridge’s CamStar programme (Cambridge, School Teachers and Research). CamStar supports school based research by offering guidance on developing and shaping research projects, including tailored knowledge banks and advice on methodology. Moreover, the hub’s teacher-researchers were visited by Dr Sue Brindley from the university, who gave advice to participants on research design and research methodology. This helped participating teacher-researchers apply good research methods and provided a rigorous evaluation process. The aim of the project was to create a body of good practice. It was clear from initial discussions that the issues around homework were an area worthy of investigation, not least how the burden of workload can be managed whilst maintaining the best student outcomes. Importantly, the project emphasised by the need to understand homework in our own contexts, particularly working towards a greater understanding of how the type of homework activities we are setting impacts on our own pupils’ progress. The project also sought to canvass the views of our pupils, parents and teachers.

What were the outcomes?

The researchers’ findings were varied and quite detailed, but some common themes were clear. These included the importance of:

  • Setting work that’s relevant: set ‘practice’ or ‘preparation’ homework activities, not ‘creative’ or ‘extended project work’. Homework should focus on either practice of previously taught knowledge or preparation for the next lesson through the learning of appropriate content.
  • Checking the homework with the pupils in class after completion: this offers a chance to review the key concepts, correct misunderstandings and better embed the work completed to memory. Importantly, any preparation work should involve some form of low stakes testing or evidencing.
  • Making sure students can complete the homework; pitch it to a student’s age and ability as confusion, stress and anxiety will hinder their learning. A higher chance of success will increase confidence ahead of more challenging work in class. • Making sure it is not too long: otherwise it will affect the pupils’ well-being as well as their ability to complete other homework. Overall, pupils should have 1.5 to 2.5 hours of homework a night. Ideally, subjects should be limited to either 20- or 30-minute activities.
  • Getting parents involved: without this homework can become a source of conflict between pupils and parents.

For more findings and details of the research process, please visit the hub’s research website