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What education bloggers have said about times tables tests

January 23, 2016

I thought it might be worth seeing if it’s possible to write 500 words summarising the views in the education blogosphere about one topical issue. Let me know what you think. Also, I’d be very interested to know if I missed any blogposts debating the issue. I will probably add my own views in a post later this weekend.

3 weeks ago, there was an announcement from the government that students should be tested on their times tables at the end of KS2. How did the blogging world respond?

Some parts of the blogging world reached an immediate consense. The teaching union blogs were against.  The ATL‘s blog claimed that times tables are too narrow to be concerned about, objecting to the timed element, and raising practical concerns. The Voice blog published a statement opposing testing on principle. The NAHT site featured a blogpost describing the announcement as “spin” and suggesting it was a criticism of schools.

There was a similar consensus from most blogs providing political commentary on education. Roger Titcombe, at the Local Schools Network claimed that the tests “conjured up Gradgrindian classroom scenarios”. Michael Rosen preferred Alice In Wonderland to Hard Times, but seemed to object. Education commentator, Owen Hathway also opposed the tests, claiming that tables tests were unnecessary and interfering, and that:

…the world has moved on.  Children learn in different ways in the digital age and using a calculator, or phone, is a simple way of looking up times tables. … we must …. be mindful of the modern world and make sure that children and young people use the computing ability on their mobile phones so they can get that at their fingertips.

Jules Darby, on the Labour teachers blog, suggested that the tests would impact on those with SEN and existing difficulties. However, two other Labour Teacher commentators had a more mixed perspective, with Michael Tidd analysing the Labour Party’s response and Lisa Harford discussing both the importance of knowing times tables, and the limitations of tables tests as in indicator.

That Labour Teachers were less hostile than political commentators who don’t teach, might be explained by the differences of opinion among teacher bloggers generally. Two secondary maths teachers wrote positively about the idea of times tables tests. Jeff, from the “A Maths Teacher Writes” blog, argued that times table knowledge is important for further progress in maths,  and that tables were not difficult to learn. Tom Bennison also wrote to criticise the objections to the tests, particularly complaints that testing is bad for children: “Of course I realise that some children may not particularly enjoy tests, but the ‘children hate tests and they make them hate maths’ talk that is common is a massive stereotype and not universally backed up with any evidence.” One secondary maths teacher did object; Mr Chadburn argued that “Rapid recall is only of use in the future in a pub quiz”. Two primary teachers, Gawain Little and Mr Teacher wrote posts contrasting mathematical understanding and reasoning with the recall of times tables facts. The strongest objections were made by home educator Ross Mountney who argued that the tests “…will inevitably change teachers’ behaviour towards pupils, possibly towards a more coercive style if they feel that there is a real threat to their status as a result of their children’s performance”.

13 comments

  1. From the response of these educators, you’d think the govt was proposing compulsory slaughter of the first-born. If memorising a mere 36 number facts can send them into that kind of a tizzy, one can only wonder how they manage to dress themselves in the morning.

    Assuming you teach three easily-understood rules, there are only 36 facts that must be committed to memory. First, 0 times any number is 0. Second, 1 times any number is the same as the number. Lastly, the reciprocal rule: 2×6=6×2=12

    When we were teaching kids to read and spell, we used to throw in a sets of maths flashcards so parents could teach number facts for addition and multiplication (not at the same time!). Pupils practised them every day, and you added a new card every few days, or however long it took to get the old one right every time. Absolutely simple and painless, but a bridge too far for the likes of Michael Rosen!


  2. So once again we find that parents are forced to do all the actual educating, while those who are paid to do so use casuistry to abdicate all responsibility.


  3. I’m with the secondary maths teachers on this. Times table are important. I’m surprised primary maths teachers are against this; you need times tables knowledge for simplification of fractions and for accessing formal methods of multiplication and division otherwise your working memory would be overloaded even by year 4. Pretty much all primary maths teachers should have an inkling of understanding that the skills/methods I’ve just described are but one small step in multiple steps required for answering maths questions at secondary school and that we primary teachers are required to get children SECONDARY READY (sorry about the shouting there). The fact that the govt is even considering a test tells me that there is word on the ground that many primary teachers are NOT preparing children adequately or are making their own decisions about the importance of times tables tests because they believe they know better than the experts.

    What a woeful and cruel situation this is if primary teachers are deliberately limiting children’s ability to access secondary maths based on worry about how a child ‘feels’ about maths or tests in general. Frankly, if children are worried, then someone must’ve put in their minds or modelled that they should be worried and stressed about exams and tests.

    If teacher’s behaviour towards pupils changes as a result of their being required to sit a small times tables test, then I think that is probably a good thing. I mean, what other behaviour is there but to be teaching good quality maths lessons?


    • Indeed, and since when was children’s dislike of something an accurate measurement of its value? Cf. vegetables.


      • “Child centered education” in practice.
        (Sorry. I couldn’t help it.)


        • Sorry, I meant
          Since child centered education.


  4. Kids don’t dislike times tables tests if they know their times tables!

    In fact they enjoy showing that they know them, when they do.


  5. I can’t believe this is controversial. I have no insight into why people would object to multiplication tables testing except to say year 6 is too late and they should be known by the vast majority of pupils by year 4.

    Rather ironic for Michael Rosen to refer to Alice in Wonderland written by a mathematician.

    Why is it that secondary schools have to put in so many interventions to make up for poor primary education in year 7. From fresh start, to improving handwriting to make it legible, to multiplication tables and yes even number bonds to 10. I guess its ok so long as short term enjoyment wins out every time. What about long term self esteem – how do they think these children then feel as teenagers (or even adults) when they can’t read, write or even do simple arithmetic.


  6. Times tables are certainly valuable but since when was stress a recommended teaching technique. Many young children find number work a problem and 7 year olds just panic when told to answer 60 questions in 6 minutes. This could last the rest of their lives.


    • There may well be a few primary school teachers who get stressed at the thought of teaching number facts, especially if they themselves don’t know them. It’s a pretty sad comment on the ITT industry that it’s possible to get a BEd without such basic skills.

      The notion that expecting 7-year-olds to ‘answer 60 questions in 6 minutes’ might scar them for life is mere conjecture–I have always found that children are immensely relieved when someone finally takes the trouble to teach them basic skills which have hitherto eluded them. The lack of fluent recall of number bonds will effectively render children innumerate and blight their future educational prospects. Ask any secondary maths or science teacher, and you will find out just how bad it is.


  7. Down here in the southeast primary teachers DO teach times tables. This is already being done daily, if time allows, by rote, chants, songs or anything else that works. Ignore progressive bloggers, educationalists, and consultants – every primary teacher knows that an early and thorough grounding in number facts is essential so we TEACH it. In the vast majority of schools the children are tested on times tables in some form every week .The kids love it; there’s a really sense of excitement when it’s test time and they really do enjoy trying to beat their own previous results, with no extrinsic reward other than the satisfaction of moving onto the next times table. Not that we wouldn’t teach and test times tables if the kids didn’t enjoy it you understand!
    So its sad that this myth of the primary teacher as under educated naive progressivist is still being perpetuated in comments in blogs such as this. Plenty of us have masters and post graduate research degrees and I imagine we have to battle against even more progressivism tosh than our secondary colleagues.


  8. […] Teaching in British schools « What education bloggers have said about times tables tests […]


  9. I agree wholeheartedly that children learn their tables but disagree that it should be tested against the clock. Some children who know their tables find it difficult to have instant recall especially against the clock. Tables are vital but they need a context on which to apply them. Testing them is just a step too far and a total waste of money. This government are sadly going back to the 50’s where rote learning was high on the agenda. As a child of the 50’s and a teacher today I would say children have a much wider mathematical knowledge.



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