Yet again the government misdiagnoses the problemby Andrew King / March 1, 2018 / Leave a comment
Eight times nine is… come on, quickly… the answer is… no?
Those who have struggled with their times tables will remember the horror of not being able to recall the right answer on the spot. Unfortunately, in yet another over simplistic effort to tackle the problem of innumerate Britain, times tables tests have been put firmly back on the agenda. Education Secretary Damian Hinds has announced that a new online test will be rolled out for year four pupils this spring. Children will have to quickly answer multiplication questions against the clock.
To be clear, as a headteacher, former maths inspector and author of children’s books on mathematics I am all for children having a rock-solid recall of number facts, but the truth of the matter is that our primary school children are now really rather good at their times tables. For some time there has been an emphasis on knowing your tables in the SATs tests for seven year-olds (Key Stage 1) and 11 year-olds (Key Stage 2)—a national times tables test doesn’t really add anything to the mix.
But here’s the thing: whatever you think about times tables, the proposed test is indicative of the problem that the government keeps fiddling at the margins. The increasingly squeezed public funding available is not being used to tackle the actual issue.
We need to look wider and be more ambitious, because Britain has serious problems with innumeracy. The gap between ourselves and our East Asian competitors is wide. In the most recent Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), England’s mean score was 546, compared to Singapore which scored 618, and topped the study for maths at both years five and nine. Furthermore The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2015 says that the “poor mathematics sk…