Homework, Irony and the BBC…

14 Dec

MALE OFFSPRING:  Arrrghhh! I can’t do this! I HATE this! I HATE it!

ME:  Oh for…..(stopping myself)…it’s just homework! The sooner you get it done – the better.

MALE OFFSPRING: That’s alright for you to say! You said you never had nowt given you as homework when you were a kid. But I’m just 6! It’s not fair! I HATE this! I HATE my life! I keep telling you! I’m supposed to be HAPPY!

ME: I did get homework. But not until I was about 12.

FEMALE OFFSPRING: Well that’s because you must have gone to a rubbish school.

ME: I didn’t actually. It’s just that things were different in those days. Plus… if you didn’t do your homework… your parents didn’t feel the need to try and bail you out. Or to feel guilty that they might somehow might be turning out to be a crap parent.

FEMALE OFFSPRING: You just swore!

ME: No I didn’t. You must have misheard me.


ME: Anyway. I’ve had enough of this. I’m going upstairs. Or out. I’m sick of this every night. Don’t do your homework. See if I care if you end up on the streets at the age of 16 with no qualifications and you can’t even do your 5 times table!

FEMALE OFFSPRING: Oh that’s very mature, Mum.

MALE OFFSPRING: Good. I don’t care. I’m not doing it. Goodbye stupid numeracy book!

FEMALE OFFSPRING: That’s so unfair! So he doesn’t have to do his? Just ’cause he sits there and cries and whines like a big baby brat?!

MALE OFFSPRING: (whacks her with the exercise book) I HATE YOU.

ME: I can’t do another 10 years of this. I’m off. Make your own tea.


This is no exaggeration. This tends to occur most nights of the week in our home. Yes it is stressful. Yes it will get worse as the kids hit secondary school age and as fully-fledged teenagers, learn even more arsier tactics than blubbing, whacking each other with homework books or spitting grapes at each other. I know that.

But I’m actually thanking my lucky stars. It could be much worse. We have some great advantages on our side:

1) We are a 2 parent family. We can take turns to lock ourselves in the bathroom and have the odd swig of Listerine when it all gets too much.

2) We both work flexibly. We are around a lot more than most parents in order to supervise homework.

3) We possess a wonderful Grandma who sometimes takes over when the going gets tough in terms of weekend homework burden.

A Grandma who knows how to get around the homework tantrums...

A Grandma who knows how to get around the homework tantrums…

4) Our kids go to excellent local (state) primary schools where the teachers listen to the different needs of our kids and don’t pull our finger nails out if we occasionally don’t deliver the scribbled goods. They even let us choose reading books for our dyslexic daughter (how cool is that?)

5) We ban the TV from Monday to Friday. Okay… this is not so much an example of luck. We just know that the more that the TV is available, the more paddying occurs and the larger the flying missiles become.

So it was a super-duper irony today – when right in the middle of a blazing homework tantrum – the nice people from BBC 1 TV Breakfast Time called.  They wanted me to come onto the show in the morning in order to talk about the latest research by think tank OECD, that compares the number of homework hours spent between different countries. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-30417132

I hope that the Beeb were not too disturbed by the freakish laughter that emanated from the other end of the phone line.

Either way, I’m always happy to talk about this issue. In terms of the research, I do find it rather strange that our kids in the UK are being compared with kids from the other side of the world (i.e. Shangai, Singapore) who operate within very different cultures, historical contexts and economies.

Malala Y and Stupendous Man - homework for 'who is your hero?' with our own unique interpretation...

Malala Yousafzai and Stupendous Man – homework for ‘who is your hero?’ with our own unique interpretation…

But I certainly welcome opening the dialogue – particularly in relation to the differences relating to the ‘homework question and class’ here in the UK. There are huge differences between the expectations and standards placed upon kids from more working class backgrounds and those born of the middle classes (dare I say it… the latter parents falling rather more into the competitive parenting pool. Whilst parents from working class backgrounds are less obsessed with an exterior sense of academic achievement.)

I probably veer between both camps, if I’m honest.

So if any parent is reading this and finds that the level of stress in their household is worse than our own and wants to dampen things down a bit, here are my tips:

1) If you are a lone parent – find another partner in crime quickly to help manage the burden of homework management. Doesn’t have to be someone from your preferred sexual orientation. Old Mrs Milligan next door might be worth her weight in gold (pay her in cans of Stella, or whatever her tipple happens to be.)

2) If your child is doing too much non-homework screen-time, do as we do. Ban the TV in the week. Hide the screens. If the kids are older and have screens in their rooms and deliberately disobey you – fit a trip switch into the home so that all electric goes off in their room (brutal perhaps but some kids need the iron fist approach.)

3) Speak to the school. Most teachers are utterly sympathetic to the plight of homework clapped out and downtrodden parents. Negotiate with them about what can constitute as ‘learning’ for your particular child and their needs from time to time.  And if it means getting a bit more creative about how homework is presented (i.e. using a video camera, a dictaphone, a blog post, having a parent transcribe a story – all techniques which we have used in the past) then bite the bullet.

fruity earrings sml

Liven up a dull national curriculum on ‘healthy eating’ by letting them make ‘fruity earrings’. Try and stop them from spitting the pips at each other though..

4) Stay away from the competitive parent sorts. Certainly don’t cosy up to them on Facebook. Perhaps think about talking to yourself in the playground instead (believe me – having a little chat with oneself DEFINITELY keeps the other parents away from you if you are really struggling to keep them at bay…)

5) Set up a list of *fun* activities that you consider to be learning/homework opportunities. Stop thinking about academic achievements for your kids. Start thinking about them being helped to become well-rounded individuals who have good logical and problem solving skills and who love the world and who will have a lifelong interest in society and the environment. Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m not the sort to try and push the wisdom of a former Tory MP onto you… but one of the best buys that we have had in recent years along these lines is a tome produced by Gyles Brandreth ‘The Lost Art of Having Fun.’ Go and treat yourself to a copy!

(And no. I am not sleeping with the fella.)


6 year old boy has just peered over my shoulder and shrieked “Are you mad? Why are you writing about homework – you weirdo!”


18 Responses to “Homework, Irony and the BBC…”

  1. Sahaj December 31, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    Thank you for your humourous approach to life. Homework has been an issue with my 4 lately also…it is nice to know that we are ALL faced with this situation…as sometimes it feels like it is only oneself. Thanks for what you do.

    Wishing you a wonderful 2015!

    love and light..


    • funnylass January 1, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      Thank YOU for the timely reminder that it shouldn’t ALL be about achievement and ‘goals.’
      Nowt better than a bit of meditation and reflection rather than *doing*
      Have the nicest ’15 imaginable

  2. Julia December 17, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    Your children sound perfectly normaly to me! My ‘boys’ are both grown men now, but I remember the awful homework rows. I also remember similar discussions about paper rounds. Your advice to keep out away from the competitive parenting circuit is excellent.

  3. Beata December 15, 2014 at 11:19 pm #

    Thank you, Chris, you made me laugh out loud! I am relieved to discover that my own children are not the only ones with ‘homework-related existential problems’. Seriously though – we are very lucky this year: my youngest has a good teacher who gives his class very reasonable and actually useful homework. Quite a difference compared to last year, when most of the homework required heavy parental involvement if it were to be done properly. I refused to get involved, but you’d be amazed how some parents would do their children’s homework for them, while denying any involvement…The teachers seemed to be unable to tell a difference between a piece of work produced by a child and a child’s parent. I found that most annoying!

    • funnylass December 16, 2014 at 11:09 am #

      Cheers Beata! I don’t understand why any parent would want to do their homework for their kids. I always remember … at infant school, being really proud of myself for writing a poem in class that my teacher was bowled over by. They selected it to go into the school magazine… It went like this “Crab crawled at the bottom of the sea. Looked up and said ‘Oh me!’. Saw a net swishing down. Quickly scurried round and round.”

      A few days later another kid brought a poem in that had been ‘written at home.’ It was stunning. I was in awe of it… can still remember it word for word. Now, this child happened to be someone who had never particularly shone in the area of literacy (as I had myself – being a swotty-pants.) That poem also went into the school magazine. When my Ma saw it she chuckled and said to me ‘oh… you don’t really think that the child wrote this – do you?’
      It was a rude awakening to me. Some parents cheat! Some parents want their kids to be thought of so well… that they teach their little kids that its okay to cheat!
      I mean… we all help a little bit with the colouring-in and the *process* of coming up with the right answers etc. But to pass off an entire – beautifully scripted – poem as your 6 yr old’s work?
      Well. That’s just weird.
      And the interesting part to this story is that last week – when I found it strange, being the only mum at my kid’s school who ‘is a writer’, my own Ma said ‘Oh do you remember such and such at your primary school?’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Their family were always a bit up-themselves weren’t they?’ ‘Yes,’ Mother replied. ‘Their parent was a writer…’
      Yes dear reader. It was the same family!
      It put me right off those writer-sorts…. 😉

      • Beata December 31, 2014 at 10:46 pm #

        Hi Chris,

        I really like your ‘crab’ poem, it’s lovely!

        Yes, it is extremely annoying when some parents cheat, and very disheartening for those children whose parents don’t – it’s unfair. Sadly, some people will always cheat and all we can say to this is ‘who cares’… Longer term it’s our – the non-cheating parents’ – children who will come up strong. They are the ones who learn to solve problems and deal with difficulties on their own. Yes, we do help and guide them, but the actual effort is theirs, not ours, and that’s what makes them who they become. Got that off my chest, feeling better now! 😉

        • funnylass January 1, 2015 at 4:36 pm #

          Ta! I think you are spot-on with that one. No pain no gain maybe? Perhaps parents who don’t get a meltdown from their kids at least once a week over the boring homework issue – those just do it for ’em in order to avoid the stress…then as you say – in the long run the ‘lesson’ (as it were) just isn’t being learned (to persist, to accept you cannot be perfect, to keep trying, not to have it handed to you on a plate etc.)
          I wonder if it’s equally worrying that an awful lot of parents don’t see it as ‘cheating.’ I’ve lived/worked in other cultures where the line between ‘taking because I am entitled to it’ and ‘stealing’is barely visible. This makes me ponder whether we are in danger of developing more of this sort of attitude in UK society. Because the schools ladle so much extra stuff onto the kids, the parents inevitably want to short-cut the pressure and therefore it becomes the norm to bail your kid out and not even perceive it as ‘cheating’!
          I think that the only thing my own parents ever faked for me was a drawing of the tooth fairy when she left me a letter once. The long-term repercussions of this small action alone have been utterly devastating. I’ve never gotten over their deceit and believe me, the psychiatrist’s bill will be landing on their doorstep fairly soon. 😉

          • Beata January 7, 2015 at 11:33 pm #

            I really hope that, as a society, we are not going to cross the line between taking legitimately and stealing. Unfortunately, too many people seem to think that cheating is harmless when it comes to small things, and bad only when it’s about something important. If a child grows up with such beliefs, how can they learn to tell right from wrong? I wonder…

  4. Kelly December 15, 2014 at 10:43 pm #

    Homework can really be a test of patience, especially if a child is not getting homework regularly and then suddenly they have to change their routine to do this boring stuff.

    Try setting homework yourself everyday so it becomes part of their routine. It will be tough at first but they will soon realise that’s what is expected from them. Keep it short and sweet to start with, maybe just a page from a workbook. Hopefully then when they do get homework from school it’s less of a drama.

    Instead of banning the TV, use it as an reward for doing homework. Every minute spent doing homework will earn them a minute or two of TV time. Maybe
    There are other rewards your child would prefer instead.

    • funnylass December 15, 2014 at 10:52 pm #

      Yes Kelly – from what you and others say- the key seems to be getting creative & moving the children away from what is initially presented to then as dull, boring hoops to jump through!

      More ideas welcome here! The biggest concern that i have relates less to the kids themselves (they always find the energy) & more towards the parents who work their socks off in other areas of life and lack the support & energy needed to give the kids the homework-boost that they so need.

      Suggestions welcome on any of the above!

  5. ljanehenderson December 15, 2014 at 8:28 pm #

    Reblogged this on ljanehenderson's Blog.

    • funnylass December 15, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

      hello and thank you missus!!x

  6. kimm December 15, 2014 at 5:45 am #

    As an infant teacher, I was appalled by the demand to set homework for such young children. I applied creativity and asked parents/carers to do number hunts (like a treasure hunt but looking for numbers in the world around us), baking (maths, science & literacy), visits to the park (PE, science), watch and discuss a TV programme (speaking and listening plus whatever subject the programme covers) etc, etc ~ you get the idea.

    • funnylass December 15, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

      I’ve read your book Kimm… so I know how your ideas lead to changed little lives… you are one of the most wonderful teachers that I have ever met. Wish you were still doing it…

  7. TraffordDream December 14, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

    I don’t get how any one with any sense can even try and make parents in the united kingdow worry about their children in relation to others in another completely separate part of the world.it sounds very much like government propaganda designed to make parents in the united kingdom worry too much about their children delivering government goals!!!!!!!!!

  8. Sharon Alison Butt December 14, 2014 at 9:06 pm #

    Oh Chris, you’re such a breath of fresh air. You’re also both hilarious and right. ☺️

  9. Lisbe December 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm #

    What you are saying about comparisons between UK and places like Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong gives a false result. How can you compare an entire country with a city state? People in those locations have only one or two children so they can pay for all the extra tutoring. How about looking at teenager suicide rates in those locations and comparing with UK?

    • funnylass December 14, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

      Not what *I am saying* Lisbe….it’s precisely what is being reported… or analysed in terms of ‘soundbites.’
      Beggars belief how ANY study – or report – or coverage – can whip out stats in such a way. It’s like saying ‘teenager results in Oldham versus students in Mexico’. It’s crazy. But it makes headlines…

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