How all stakeholders helped redesign our homework process

Reading time: 3 minutes. Relevant programme: Lead Practitioner Accreditation

Steve Lee, Sutton Community Academy, describes their overhaul of the process, which made access easier for both students and staff, and has boosted completion by removing the possible excuses

Homework is a topic that comes up regularly in education. Reviewing our homework policy to ensure it remains a relevant, workable, user-friendly and challenging document for staff and students has been the specific focus of my lead practitioner responsibility recently. I was initially asked to lead on the review and redesign of the homework policy but, as time has gone on, the project has evolved into something bigger….

The first step was to see what colleagues thought of the existing policy. Using HoD and the ‘teaching and learning strategy group’ meetings, I gained opinion on the existing policy and identified what we could keep and what might need to be upgraded. 27 staff overall contributed their views, giving a good idea of the direction the policy would go in.

While the existing policy gave a clear expectation of high quality homework to support and extend learning, there were some areas we needed to look at:

  1. The wording was very prescriptive. It expected a set amount of time to be spent on each subject per week. The amount of time to be spent varied from subject to subject but, however long was expected, it left the possibility of a student who had not finished after the prescribed time simply leaving the work as it was and not producing their best.
  2. The teachers’ ability to set high-quality homework also seemed to be a concern, given the prescribed timings. If a teacher was expected to set a piece of work which lasted for 30 minutes, it rather limited what could be set to give the students sufficient and varying challenges.
  3. Homework was seen as something that was ‘done to’ the students, rather than something they felt part of.

Leadership at my academy is deemed outstanding and this is, in part, because of the trust placed in middle leadership when it comes to effecting positive change. Having explained the proposed changes to SLT and gained agreement, I produced a draft policy for review at the relevant groups. After four redrafts (!), a policy was agreed upon.

The amount of homework expected is still proportionate to the number of lessons in that subject per week, but homework is now set weekly or fortnightly, or combined into bigger projects. Teachers have the flexibility to set homework which is appropriate, challenging and to be completed at expected levels, not when time is up. Students are encouraged to be creative in what they produce.

Importantly, this homework project involved colleagues at all levels, was agreed with them and, although it was my responsibility to produce the document, it was very much a product of a collaborative approach to effective change.

Homework completion concern

A by-product of the discussions, which led to a significant development, was a concern centred around the completion of homework. Some students would misplace a worksheet, some could not remember what ‘Do maths homework’ actually meant when they checked their planners, and some simply ‘forgot’ to do it.

I researched the feasibility of setting up an online homework system linked to the academy portal. Thanks to the experts in our IT department, staff now set all homework online. This can then be accessed from any device with internet capability by students and parents/carers when signing in to the academy portals.
Selling the idea to colleagues was a challenge – but working models demonstrated the simplicity by which homework could be set. It has not added to workload.

Selling to colleagues the idea of setting homework online was a challenge – but working models demonstrated the simplicity of the process. It has not added to workload

A trial with a targeted year group resulted in very positive feedback, and the model has been fully operational since September 2017. Constant feedback from colleagues has enabled improvements throughout the year – documents can now be uploaded so worksheets, revision and other resources can never be lost, and all homework set is saved so staff can adapt and reuse as appropriate without the need to start again.

Student ownership of homework is increasing and some of the old excuses are not available. Students know to check the portal even if they can’t remember if there is any homework for that subject.

Key role of parents/carers

The final group of stakeholders to fully involve was the parents/carers. I set up and delivered a breakfast homework club to which parents/carers were invited with their children. Nearly 1000 breakfasts were served over a five-week period, and the students enjoyed being able to discuss and complete their homework with friends and parents/carers. We linked this with academy’s healthy eating policy and the importance of breakfast, as well as being ready to learn every day.

Feedback was positive:

  • ‘As a parent, I found breakfast club very useful to support my child. Having members of staff there who were able to explain to me how to do some of the work has been a real benefit….’ Parent.
  • ‘I liked my mum helping me revise and do homework’ Student.

Again, working collaboratively with relevant stakeholders and listening to ideas has been vital to the success of this part of the project.

The result? A policy which still expects high quality, regular homework to be set but which allows teachers to be flexible, targeted and creative and students to be challenged and ‘own’ their homework, whether it be a specific piece or part of a longer project.

The online system has engaged all stakeholders in the importance of homework, so students feel supported in school and at home. It is not perfect, but through continual review and collaboration with all stakeholders, it will develop, and will hopefully contribute to ensuring we achieve the best possible outcomes for the young people in our academy as we continue on our journey to outstanding.

Steve Lee is an accredited SSAT Lead Practitioner, this programme provides a framework to drive improvement in teaching and learning. Find out more about getting involved.

Read on the SSAT blog: The nature of parental engagement

Steve Lee, Sutton Community Academy

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