Homework refers to tasks given to pupils by their teachers to be completed outside of usual lessons.
Homework activities vary significantly, particularly between younger and older pupils, including but not limited to home reading activities, longer projects or essays and more directed and focused work such as revision for tests.
Our definition also includes activities such as ‘homework clubs’ where pupils have the opportunity to complete homework in school but outside normal school hours, and ‘flipped learning’ models, where pupils prepare at home for classroom discussion and application tasks.
1. Homework has a positive impact on average (+5 months), particularly with pupils in secondary schools.
2. Some pupils may not have a quiet space for home learning – it is important for schools to consider how home learning can be supported (e.g. through providing homework clubs for pupils).
3. Homework that is linked to classroom work tends to be more effective. In particular, studies that included feedback on homework had higher impacts on learning.
4. It is important to make the purpose of homework clear to pupils (e.g. to increase a specific area of knowledge, or to develop fluency in a particular area).
The average impact of homework is positive across both primary and secondary school. There is, however variation behind this average with homework set in primary school having a smaller impact on average (see below).
The quality of the task set appears to be more important than the quantity of work required from the pupil. There is some evidence that the impact of homework diminishes as the amount of time pupils spend on it increases. The studies reviewed with the highest impacts set homework twice a week in a particular subject.
Evidence also suggests that how homework relates to learning during normal school time is important. In the most effective examples homework was an integral part of learning, rather than an add-on. To maximise impact, it also appears to be important that students are provided with high quality feedback on their work (see Feedback).
The available studies investigating the impact of homework on educational outcomes in secondary school pupils in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) largely suggest positive outcomes. Many of the studies however are literature reviews and observational studies, largely conducted in Eastern African countries, South Africa and a few others in West Africa. There also is also one quasi-experimental study conducted in Nigeria.
There is some evidence that homework may also lead to non-academic benefits. For example, the authors of a ‘no-homework’ policy review conducted in South Africa suggests that ‘no homework’ is likely to disadvantage students in the future even if it has no positive effects on learners. The research literature suggests that, if not for attainment or better performance in some subjects, homework helps to build skills like proper time management, working independently on their own at home, which are necessary for future success. To harness these benefits, careful consideration should be given to the content, deployment and feedback provided through homework.
A small scale qualitive study in Johannesburg which investigated principals’ perceptions of homework in primary schools found that all participating principals believed that homework was an important tool for teaching and learning. The study suggests that parental involvement in homework may be associated with socio-economic factors, with parents from higher income backgrounds perceived to offer support compared to unemployed, single or poorer parents. Limited time, poverty and language barriers were highlighted as some of the factors limiting parents’ involvement in their child’s homework.
Studies in secondary schools show greater impact (+5 months) than in primary schools (+3 months).
Similar positive effects are found for reading, mathematics and science.
Most homework set is individual, studies involving collaboration with peers have higher effects (+6 months), though the number of studies is small.
Studies involving digital technology typically have greater impact (+6 months).
Homework has an impact by enabling pupils to undertake independent learning to practice and consolidate skills, conduct in-depth inquiry, prepare for lessons or revise for exams. When implementing homework, the evidence suggests a wide variation in impact. Therefore, schools should consider the ‘active’ ingredients to the approach, which may include:
- Considering the quality of homework over the quantity.
- Using well-designed tasks that are linked to classroom learning.
- Clearly setting out the aims of homework to pupils.
- Understanding and addressing any barriers to completion, such as access to a learning device or resources.
- Explicitly teaching independent learning strategies.
- Providing high-quality feedback to improve pupil learning.
- Monitoring the impact homework on pupil engagement, progress and attainment.
Teachers should seek to understand any barriers to completing homework – for example, a lack of access to a quiet space or learning materials – and aim to avoid approaches that use homework as a penalty for poor performance.
Given that homework is already widely used in schools within the region, the costs associated are likely to include teacher training on best strategies of effectively using homework as a means to improve attainment. With younger children there may be additional resources required (such as reading books or games for children to take home). Implementing homework will also require a small amount of staff time for planning and feedback. As a result, average costs are moderate.
Alongside time and cost, school leaders should consider how to maximise the effectiveness of homework through teacher professional development to promote the use of well-designed tasks to complement learning in the classroom and high-quality feedback to improve pupil learning. Schools should monitor the impact of different approaches to homework – such as the frequency, purpose and variety of tasks – on pupil engagement and attainment.
The security of the evidence around homework is rated as low. 43 studies were identified that meet the inclusion criteria of the Toolkit. The topic lost additional padlocks because:
- A large percentage of the studies are not randomised controlled trials. While other study designs still give important information about effectiveness of approaches, there is a risk that results are influenced by unknown factors that are not part of the intervention.
- A large percentage of the studies were not independently evaluated. Evaluations conducted by organisations connected with the approach – for example, commercial providers, typically have larger impacts, which may influence the overall impact of the strand.
As with any evidence review, the Toolkit summarises the average impact of approaches when researched in academic studies. It is important to consider your context and apply your professional judgement when implementing an approach in your setting.
The research evidence for homework in primary schools in SSA is severely limited and there are no robust impact evaluation studies. An increase in the number of experimental or randomized control trials to assess the impact of homework on the educational attainment of primary school pupils within the region would help to close the evidence gap. Overall, the evidence is very limited. To address this evidence gap, studies that are more rigorous like randomized trials are recommended.