My response to reading this column on March 20 was to think that at last a teacher is going to explain what really goes on when homework is planned and set in a classroom. My family is frankly fed up with the hassle and trouble caused by inconsistencies in homework; whenever we try to challenge the secondary school our children attend we are met by vagueness, prevarication and unfulfilled promises - hardly reassuring. Please give us some simple, clear facts. Teacher Adam Conway replies: Secondary schools are institutions where the freedom to be an inspirational, individual teacher constantly chafes against the entitlement for students to have a consistent, coherent experience. It is homework, above all, that brings parents into daily contact with how schools function, so perhaps it is no wonder that so many regular, repeated problems and concerns stem from those hurried, brief and indecipherable notes in many students' homework diaries. Last week, in a Hong Kong primary school, eight-year-old children learning about the workplace (and a school is a workplace) started from the basic definition that in any workplace 'people share responsibilities towards a common purpose'. But homework casts a harsh, unforgiving light on every school's claims to have a clear, shared vision of educational values. At the heart of many of the problems families experience with homework are some fundamental facts about the way schools are structured and the nature of teachers' working lives. A typical Hong Kong secondary school has between 80 and 150 teaching staff, organised into subject-based faculties or departments (ideally, 'teams') of between two and 20 teachers. This is where the key difference from the organisation of a primary school comes into play; there, the teachers of all the classes in any one primary year group form the basic team, who meet regularly (perhaps weekly) to plan and review their teaching and students' work. In many secondary schools, on the other hand, faculties meet only once a month and even if this frequency is increased to once a week (as has recently happened in some Hong Kong schools), the colleagues at that meeting typically each teach five or six different classes across the school's full age range, from 11-year-olds right up to students aged 18. Most secondary schools have homework policies drawn up to help parents, students and staff avoid exactly the kind of frustrations you describe; in general, homework is consistent and successful across teachers and classes. But in a significant minority of cases there are problems. So why does this happen? Well, the way schools operate is that the principal and senior leadership team (three to six people who themselves teach relatively few classes) drive the school's vision and policies. A middle leadership team, forming up to 50 per cent of staff occupying various promoted posts and leading perhaps 40 separate teams, must then implement that vision and those policies, monitoring and reviewing their effectiveness, at the same time as they themselves teach approximately 75 per cent to 95 per cent of a full allocation of classes and lessons. When it comes to homework, as with every aspect of teaching and learning within their teams, these middle leaders seek to lead and support their colleagues in achieving success for every student. Collaborative planning of homework tasks and classroom observation of their colleagues' lessons are just as important as discussing and writing homework policy documents, but the numbers speak for themselves: a secondary school of 1,200 students can easily have, within just one subject, more than 50 different classes. And the nature of secondary school learning (typically experienced as four or five totally separate lessons and subjects each day) overwhelmingly involves one teacher with a class. The door of the classroom may not be closed but what goes on in most lessons is metaphorically more like a solo show than a team performance. It may not console you and it certainly doesn't justify it but is it any wonder then that sometimes you can see no clear pattern or consistency in the way homework is set by different teachers for different classes? And this column hasn't even begun to delve into inconsistencies and disparities in the setting of homework between all the 30-plus different subjects taught at a secondary school, nor the question of how teachers should deal with students when homework is not completed in full or on time.