Back in the 1980s, when I was at school, I learnt my times tables using all the mod cons of the time. Mrs Podmore played us a vinyl record with funky music for the 2 times table. We sang along and learnt and shouted TEN TWOS ARE TWENTY! at the end, with full exclamation. At home, my dutiful parents purchased the Mr Men Times Tables Book (I still have it) where you could learn AND colour in.
I was spoilt.
Oh the joy of discovering that the 9 times table has a short cut involving your fingers, and that the 11 times table has a 22, 33, 44 pattern, and that there is no 13 times table. Obviously 6×7 and 7×8 are the trickiest sums to remember, but I’ve got to my 40th year via an AS in Maths and pocketing most of a BSc even though it takes me 15 seconds to work them out each time.
The news that all children in England will be tested on their times tables as part of their KS2 Sats demonstrates how far away the Conservative government are from trusting schools and teachers and students to get on with the subject of teaching and learning in schools.
Another test. Another initiative from government to add to teacher workload. Another way to fill the week with rote learning, rather than application of knowledge and creativity.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan states that the skill of learning times tables up to 12×12 will measured using an “on-screen check” examination, where there will be a time window for the students to answer. And yet, a year ago when she was asked in a TV interview ‘what is 11×12’ she refused, in case she got it wrong.
Schools in Britain are already among the world’s worst for teaching to the test (Oxford University professor, Danny Dorling). “The findings suggest that UK schools focus on short-term knowledge acquisition to help pupils to pass tests and this knowledge is quickly forgotten.” At the same time, The Department for Education claimed to have “reduced the number of tests children take”. And yet now we have the introduction of yet another test to add to the crowded examination calendar.
Children are already learning their times tables at primary school. Another formalised test is another example of how little this government trusts teachers to be professionals and get on with their job. Learning at primary school age should be all about questioning and investigating the world around us and engendering an inquiring mind which will stand them in good stead for the coming years. More rote learning is not the solution.