School's Out: 'Alexa, Do My Homework'

As homework becomes non-negotiable, Mr W, a primary school teacher from South Wales, considers what this means for teachers, pupils, and families.


In this age of lockdown, teachers and school leaders have been forced to re-evaluate a contentious issue: homework. For as long as homework has existed, it has been the source of many feuds, arguments and theories. Does homework serve any purpose? How can we expect children to develop skills when our time in school with them is limited? Should we allow children to explore their other skills and talents? What about enjoying some downtime?

In this strange new world we have found ourselves inhabiting, there is no other way for teachers to do their job other than through setting homework. The rapid onset of lockdown meant that many school leaders and teachers had to step up and take a swing at how we would administer homework and how we were going to make it effective for our pupils.

I’ve spoken to many different teachers since lockdown, and there is a great variety in the ways and means that homework that is being distributed. Some schools are sending home a full schedule with 5 hours of work to complete a day online. Others are taking the approach that some children will be going through immense hardships or even grievances. Some children will go through much worse. So can these children be expected to do so much work?

I’ve been speaking to the families in my class for nearly a month. There has been a great variety in their responses to how they are finding lockdown. Some families are enjoying the extra time together, whilst others are desperate for a break. Some children naturally want to do more work and others just aren’t as keen. Some children have families that are able to support them through this period. Many children haven’t got that facility. Each case is different, and so we should approach homework in a way that is going to best support each family.

Many parents have asked me about the ‘right amount’ of work that their child should be doing. The answer I tell my parents depends on their situation, but most of the time I say that if your child is happy, then I am happy. If they are completing the work that I have set them, then they are doing more than enough. If you think your child is doing too much or too little, don’t hesitate to speak to your child’s teacher. We want to help.

The ‘right amount’ of work is also different for each case. For instance, a child with ADHD helping with their new baby brother instead of writing on the walls is a bigger achievement than matching fractions. Likewise, a child who has witnessed their sole parent recovering from COVID-19 symptoms in hospital will need time to recover from the trauma rather than feeling the pressure to work. We need to remember that our children face their own difficulties and need time to feel content and happy before working. If homework is causing your child to become unsettled or upset, then please don’t hesitate to give them a break. We are not monsters. We aren’t going to shout and scream because someone is having a bad day. Not anymore, anyway.

At this moment in time, homework is essential to ensuring your children are learning. Teachers and school leaders know that this current situation is no replacement for teacher-led classrooms, but in the midst of a pandemic, we have to use what we have available to us. Internet learning is not new, but it is in its infancy. People laughed at the car when it came along, needing to be refuelled every few miles when a horse could go all day on some hay and water. Times change, and this period of home learning could set the tone for things to come.

If there’s one thing to come out of this pandemic, it’s the rise of the internet learning. It’s here to stay, and the likelihood is we’re going to be using it more and more, so get used it. Get used to logging on and get used to researching rather than remembering. Most of life’s questions can be answered by some smart-alec on YouTube, anyway.


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