What parent hasn’t wished that homework would just go away? At the end of a hard day, it’s hardly the activity of choice when tiredness is fraying tempers all round.
At best homework is time-consuming, at worst it’s an “extreme sport”, as one parent puts it. No wonder some parents resort to finishing it off themselves, just to get rid of it.
Even the Irish Primary Principals’ Network (IPPN) has acknowledged that “homework causes a lot of stress between parents and children” and that “it often erodes the ‘quality time’ that parents have with their children”. It told an Oireachtas committee in 2010 that the role of homework in the education system needed serious research and analysis, but it wasn’t suggesting dispensing with it.
At a time of ongoing debate about the shortness of the primary school day and the need for more support for childcare, homework clubs seem like a neat solution for parents. But they are also very effective in helping children who, for a variety of reasons, may find it hard to do the work at home.
Homework clubs come in many guises, from State-funded ones aimed at supporting disadvantaged children, through individual schools making their own arrangements for the mutual benefit of children and parents, to private businesses filling a gap in the market.
No matter what type of club a child attends, they all have the advantage of providing a routine and structure to get the homework done. The children – and their parents – can go home without it hanging over them.
Homework clubs are an integral part of the School Completion Programme (SCP), which aims to keep students on track to finish a full six years of secondary-level education and sit the Leaving Certificate or its equivalent.
It has 124 projects around the country, covering 470 primary and 224 post-primary schools, and nearly all these projects would have a homework club as part of their after-school activities.
The clubs target pupils who, in the opinion of teachers, parents or sometimes the children themselves, would benefit from the support of supervised group homework, says Ethel Reynolds, regional manager for the SCP, a strand within the National Educational Welfare Board.
“Not every child wants to stay back and, on the other hand, sometimes there is a queue of people wanting to join homework clubs.”
The clubs help the children to learn organisational skills. Instead of having homework interrupted by every distraction possible, the children are encouraged to apply themselves to getting the job done and the books back in the school bag.
There’s usually the “carrot” of a fun activity at the end, to motivate them – such as art, football or basketball.
The result of being supported in having homework routinely completed is that the child goes into school more confident the next morning, not having to face possible public reprimand from a teacher, Reynolds explains.
Students attending the clubs may finish off their homework at home. “It is not the task to undermine the role of the parent at home in doing this,” she stresses.
It was a demand from parents that led the CBS Primary School in Kilkenny to set up a homework club a few years ago, at a cost of €10 a week for an hour each afternoon Monday to Thursday.
“It was to afford the children the opportunity to do their homework supervised by teachers but there was no tutoring going on,” says principal Denis O’Reilly. And parents were reminded that the ultimate responsibility for homework, in terms of completion and checking, still rested with them.
It worked very well but, in recent times, numbers attending have dropped to about half a dozen, he reports. The club has stopped for the summer term, when the boys are involved in more sporting activities after school, however it will be offered again in September.
Scoil Mhuire Convent Primary School in Roscommon has a more extensive homework club teamed with activities, such as music, camogie, chess and drama, from 3pm to 5pm, Monday to Thursday.
Children can attend just for the homework or for the activities, or for both, mostly at a cost of €2 per session.
Pobalscoil Chorca Dhuibhne in Dingle, Co Kerry, is one example of an Irish-speaking secondary school which runs a free homework club to give extra support to first and second-year pupils who have difficulty completing their homework through Irish.
Their parents may not have sufficient knowledge of the language to help them at home. The students go to it from 4pm to 6pm, Monday to Thursday, and there are teachers there to help them with any words they have difficulty with.
Children attending a community-based homework club in Nenagh, Co Tipperary, "absolutely love" it, according to its co-ordinator Mary Boyd Ryan. "They love the fact that you are sitting down with them and giving them attention."
Run by the North Tipperary Leader Partnership in the boardroom of its offices, the club started off one day a week but now operates from 3pm to 5pm, Monday to Thursday, funded through Pobal.
It caters for just over 20 children, aged seven to 10, who are offered sandwiches and drinks when they arrive. People working on Community Employment schemes, who are interested in getting into youth work as a career, sit in with the children as they do their homework, helping out where necessary.
Generally whatever is listed in their homework journals is completed by the children, says Boyd Ryan, who adds: “We would push to get the best from them.”
Meanwhile, a new venture in Blackrock, Co Dublin, called The Hub, is setting up a standalone, private homework club, alongside a Links Childcare centre on Stradbrook Road.
“There is definitely a demand for it,” says The Hub co-ordinator Danielle Nolan, who believes it will appeal to parents who don’t have the chance to go home and get stuck into homework. She also thinks children pay more attention to their homework when they are doing it with someone else.
"Trained teachers will supervise and help them with their homework – and give them extra activities if they finish before time," she adds.
Split into junior and senior sections, the club will run from 3-4.30pm, Monday to Thursday, and cost from €12 for one day a week to €29 for all four days.
As much as some parents might like to be taken out of the homework equation, research shows that parental involvement in children’s learning in the home makes a significant impact on improving educational outcomes for their children.
“Homework can offer parents an important opportunity to engage with their children’s learning in the home,” says the chief executive of the National Parents’ Council Primary, Áine Lynch.
“If, for any reason, children complete homework outside the home environment, for example at a homework club, it is important that parents find other ways of engaging in their children’s learning in the home.”