Introducing unhomework: Five core principles to improve your homework

Written by: Mark Creasy | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

How can we generate successful homework without increasing workload? Mark Creasy labels his approach ‘unhomework’ and his learners always complete the tasks. He explains five core principles...

I have long said that homework (home learning) is a Goldilocks issue – for some parents (and learners) there is too much, for others there is not enough, and for some it is just about right. However, there is an easy balance to be struck in generating successful homework without creating an increased workload for teachers.

The problems with homework

Design a poster, create a solar system, complete the worksheet, a book review, find words with __ sound around your house: anyone thinking that the current system does not need overhauling has clearly never seen these homework tasks.

These, to me, are derived from the “we set it because we have to” mentality. I don’t blame teachers entirely, the pressures of expectation, time and necessity are all contributing factors.

If you’re in the “I set it because I have to” camp, then I’m guessing the outcome you want is along the lines of achieving something quick and easy to mark, related as closely as possible to the class’s current work – although that is not a deal-breaker – and something that pacifies both parents and your school’s senior leaders.

Unfortunately, all too often the impact on the children can go unacknowledged or unrecognised here as this approach tends to ignore real differentiation. Therefore, there will be children who take 10 minutes and others who spend an hour on the same task based on how easy or difficult they find it.

Similarly, some children will rush to complete the task to be able to get on with more interesting and engaging pursuits – after all, if you couldn’t be bothered to set something more interesting and only want it completed to “tick a box”, why should they bother? And then there will be those children who will pore over the task, lovingly crafting a masterpiece.

Why should we set homework?

There is another way. First, start with why you actually set homework:

  • As a formative assessment?
  • As a summative assessment?
  • To provide extra practice?
  • To track learning through a topic?
  • To stimulate interest in an upcoming topic?

The answer should never be “because I have to”. And even if that is the answer, think about “how” you set it. What about setting home learning as I do? For example, to ensure:

  • Individuality is recognised.
  • Differentiation is easily achieved.
  • Avoidance of an entire class of identical pieces.
  • Purposeful learning occurs.
  • Meaningful activities are engaged with.
  • Parents can support and be involved with their child, but not be burdened.

Well for this, a different approach is needed. And while I would advocate that the difference in approach should begin in the classroom, with home learning forming an extension of your overall teaching and learning, I have worked with colleagues and schools that have used “unhomework” as their home learning system regardless.

But how to achieve it? I would suggest the following steps, which have served me well (though some may well be seen as controversial).

1, Reading is sacrosanct*

This is the one truly compulsory element to home learning for me. Children should be heard by, or listen to, an adult every night. Ideally, this will be the same book so that there is mutual engagement with the story, allowing for questions about the text – which teachers can provide a script for so that parents can explore: character, plot, inference, prediction, summarising, etc.
Also, and most importantly, reading should not be a shortcut to extra writing. Too many children (and parents) are put off reading because they must complete logs/journals/reviews/peer recommendations, etc. Ensure that your learners enjoy reading for its own sake, provide a range of high-quality texts in school that can go home, recommend age-appropriate texts (for the individual child’s ability, not just for the class), and make links with the local library (if you have one) and bookshops.

* I appreciate in some schools that learning tables and spellings will be treated with equally religious fervour, all I would suggest here is to ensure that your learners are provided with a range of methods of learning them. This is more likely to secure them for long-term learning, plus the learners will make more effort if there is variety and fun.

2, Have high expectations

If you know your class, you will know what they are capable of. Be prepared to challenge and do not accept anything less than their best – especially if it is brought in the day or weekend after you set it. This also means celebrating true excellence, relevant to the individual learner, rather than simply performing a song and dance routine because someone has actually completed the work. This is easier if you...

3, Give learners time

Instead of expecting home learning every week, why not allow two weeks or even half a term to complete a high-quality piece of work? If you want the class to create something of which they are proud, then ensure they have time to do it.

Recognise that with reading every night (see point 1), family time, relaxation, clubs and so on, the children will need time to complete the work.

This will also teach your learners about planning, organisation, and deadlines. However, I would recommend reminding pupils what is due and when so as to avoid a last-minute rush, but if that does happen remember point 2 and challenge the child(ren) about it.

4, Provide options

This is especially important when you introduce unhomework so that the children know they really can create anything they choose. This can be achieved through:

  • Title-only home learning: Tell pupils what you want them to do, but not how – e.g. rather than setting “create a safety poster” , why not set “safety” as the title and let the learner decide how to meet this challenge? This could lead to the learning being to answer a question – although not necessarily simply by writing a response. “Was Henry VIII a good king?” – I set this once and had children create collages, draw pictures, create cartoon strips to show pros and cons – one even created scenes in Lego!
  • Topic home learning: The children create something based on current, prior, or even better, future learning.
  • A home learning menu: The children choose what they want, alongside a range of suggested methods of completion. Ideas (with not a poster/worksheet in sight) include: poems, songs, cartoons, models, videos, interviews, Top Trumps, design a game, teach a sibling or parent and get feedback from them, create a quiz to test the class...

5, Allow freedom

The zenith of unhomework is to allow the children to design their own home learning to address something they want, where they identify what they want to work on, what the success criteria is, and how they will achieve it. From this approach, I have had learners:

  • Create plays – then act them out.
  • Learn sign language.
  • Create an assembly about female scientists (the school only referred to males).
  • Design a game called Invasion with elements of Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons and Vikings as the culmination of their key stage 2 learning.
  • Create videos to learn Italian.
  • Cook/bake/make a wide variety of dishes – including one learner who learned how to make a cup of tea simply because I knew her mum had been in hospital: “Make sure you make mum a cup of tea so she can put her feet up.”

All of this engaged the learners, drew real appreciation from their peers, and showed real pride in what they had achieved.

Final reflections

The reason all this works is the true underpinning of unhomework and the epitome of freedom. That is, I don’t chase home learning – if it is not completed, so be it. I appreciate this will be contentious for many readers, but from this approach I have never had learners not complete unhomework.

I explain why home learning is important, especially for long-term learning and self-discipline, as well as establishing excellent habits, but the sense of freedom and expectation of quality creates a shared sense of purpose and everyone wants to receive recognition and praise for something purposeful.

So why not save your time, sanity, and sense of purpose by trying out unhomework? I promise it will revolutionise your learners’ attitudes to home learning and make your feedback far more interesting, as you will never know what you are going to get! 

  • Mark Creasy is an Independent Thinking associate and experienced primary school teacher. His new book is entitled Unhomework: How to get the most out of homework, without really setting it. Visit or follow him @ep3577. His previous articles for Headteacher Update are via

Headteacher Update Autumn Edition 2022

This article first appeared in Headteacher Update's Autumn Edition 2022. This edition was sent free of charge to every primary school in the country. A digital edition is also available via

This material is protected by MA Education Limited copyright.
See Terms and Conditions.


Please view our Terms and Conditions before leaving a comment.

Change the CAPTCHA codeSpeak the CAPTCHA code
Sign up Headteacher update Bulletin
About Us

Headteacher Update is a magazine, website, podcast and regular ebulletin dedicated to the primary school leadership team. We tackle a wide range of leadership issues, offering best practice, case studies and in-depth information, advice and guidance. Headteacher Update magazine is distributed free to approximately 20,000 primary school headteachers.

Learn more about Headteacher update


Register to receive regular updates on primary education news delivered free to your inbox.