Times tables to be tested by the age of 11

Roger Titcombe's picture

This is the latest press release from the Secretary of State for Education Who could argue against children 'learning their tables' - any more than learning the alphabet? But a national test? What! It gets worse.

Pupils aged 11 will be expected to know their tables up to 12x12, and will be tested using an "on-screen check". The checks will be piloted to about 3,000 pupils in 80 primary schools this summer, before being rolled out across the country in 2017. Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said maths was a non-negotiable aspect of a good education. The "on-screen check" examination will involve children completing multiplication challenges against the clock, which will be scored instantly.

The Department for Education says it is the first use of on-screen technology in National Curriculum tests. Ms Morgan has also said teachers will be judged by the results of the tests: "Since 2010, we've seen record numbers of 11 year olds start secondary school with a good grasp of the three Rs. But some continue to struggle. "That is why, as part of our commitment to extend opportunity and deliver educational excellence everywhere. We are introducing a new check to ensure that all pupils know their times tables by age 11.

This conjures up Gradgrindian classroom senarios. The following is from Section C5.8 in 'Learning Matters'. " After a pause, one half of the children cried in chorus, ‘Yes Sir! Upon which the other half seeing in the gentleman’s face that Yes was wrong, cried out in chorus , ‘No Sir!’ – as the custom is in these examinations. ‘I’ll explain it to you, then’, said the gentleman, after another and a dismal pause, ‘why you wouldn’t paper a room with representations of horses. Do you ever see horses walking up and down the sides of rooms in reality – in fact? Do you?’ ‘Yes sir!’ from one half. ‘No, sir!’ from the other. ‘Of course no,’ said the gentleman, with an indignant look at the wrong half. ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ said the gentleman. And ‘Fact, fact, fact!’ repeated Thomas Gradgrind. You are to be in all things regulated and governed,’ said the gentleman, ‘by fact. We hope to have , before long a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who force the people to be a people of fact, and nothing but fact.”

See here and here. Is the primary school classroom to become an 'arithmetic madrassa' full of chanting children and permeated by fear: that of the children that risk public humiliation for nor being able to respond with the right answer within the requisite number of seconds and that of the teacher of a memory deficient SEN class fearful of failing the national class computer tables assessment?

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agov's picture
Wed, 06/01/2016 - 11:05


Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 11:44

I wonder who's got the contract for this online testing. Pearson, perhaps? If so, perhaps we can expect the same gremlins which affected Sat marking this year.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 11:59

Factual recall doesn't necessarily mean understanding. And factual recall of tables, while useful, is in any case a small part of maths as a whole.

Morgan reduces mathematics to numeracy alone. That's not to say numeracy isn't an essential part of mathematics but the subject is more than this.

I confess I have a problem with the factual recall of tables. I blink like a rabbit in headlights if confronted with with something like 'What is 8x4' especially if it's against the clock. Given time I would reverse the sum to 4x8 because it's easier when you put the small number first. Then I'd double 8 and double it again to get the answer. Or use a multiplication square but that, of course, wouldn't be allowed in a test. Colouring in number patterns on a multiplication square doesn't just raise mathematical understanding but is good fun.

Despite my dire performance in memory recall I still managed to pass Maths O level (no calculators, just log tables).

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 12:10

You are right Janet. Dyslexics can become great writers and successful authors and instant recall is not essential to mathematics. But of course children should be encouraged to learn their tables. It is the high stakes testing bit that is flawed for so many reasons.

Phil Taylor's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 12:06

Thank you Roger. I can't help recalling that when various politicians, including Gove, I think, have been tested against the clock on their mathematical skills in a TV studio, they have often struggled.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 13:05

Let us hope Nikki Morgan is put on the spot in a studio interview ASAP. I always struggled with 8 x 9.

agov's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 12:39

Apart from its always essential usage when buying eggs, is there actually any benefit from memorising the 12 times table?

Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 13:02

It is vital for avoiding gross errors.

David Barry's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 19:18

The reason for memorising the 12 times table, was that there were twelve pence to a shilling, and, in a pre calculator age, you needed tables to do money sums

(How many times does two shillings and sixpence hapenny go in to 5 pounds six shillings and eightpence?)

What children need to be taught is how to use calculators and how to do estimation in order to avoid gross errors such as getting the decimal point in the wrong place.

Tatiana's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 13:04

I think this is the right place to give a link to some actual research on maths learning:


Roger Titcombe's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 13:20

Thank you Tatiana. See also the work of Sue Johnston-Wilder & Clare Lee here


where you will find the following.

"the more that we studied stories from people who exhibit mathematics phobia, and read the related literature, the more that it appeared to us that the way that mathematics is often taught in English mathematics classrooms is an unwitting form of cognitive abuse. Instances of ways of working that seem calculated to cause anxiety are asking learners to perform tasks that require feats of memory at a rapid rate"

See also Section 5.4 of 'Learning Matters', 'Developing Mathematical Resilience - University of Warwick and the Open University'

Barry Wise's picture
Sun, 03/01/2016 - 20:39

It's a mistake to assume children don't LIKE doing times tables.

The iPad generation aren't at all sniffy about it.

At my kids' school everyone is totally obsessed with TTRockstars. Compared to which any Nicky Morgan test will be a doddle.


Roger Titcombe's picture
Mon, 04/01/2016 - 08:42

Barry - This is an on-line times tables testing game marketed to schools. The following, presumably from a teacher, is from the website.

"On Friday, after we've marked the sheet, they work out their total score (out of 280) and their total time (out of 18:40) and call it out to me. I enter their time straight into the Excel file in minutes and seconds - Excel then converts it to seconds. I also enter their scores and Excel then works out their speed (time per question)."

The interesting issue is the pattern of the pupil's results. The software presumably calculates a 'score' based on number of correct responses and time taken.

The distribution of the pupil's scores will, if the sample is representative and big enough, be a bell curve. But Nikki Morgan thinks that if the stakes are sufficiently high for pupils and teachers the normal distribution can be transmuted into a pass/fail test that has some meaning. It cannot. She will presumably set the test at a level that most pupils can pass, thus utterly humiliating the minority of pupils that cannot. This minority cannot be eliminated by threatening teachers.

I agree that familiarity with the times tables is a good thing. Making it into a computer game is fine until the pupils get bored with it, then another such game or activity can be thought up. All this is fine if the activity is fun (even if only for a while) and LOW STAKES. It does not mean that any child who fails the test can never progress to being a mathematician or that the teacher of that child warrants a pay cut or the sack.

The critics are right that it is not maths and it does not develop cognitive ability, but lots of habits are useful.

It is when it becomes a HIGH STAKES floor target that it becomes sinister and corrosive of good education.

But then this is true of everything about the English education system. This is one of the central threads of 'Learning Matters'.

agov's picture
Tue, 05/01/2016 - 11:04

I liked using log tables when I was at school. I've no idea what they were or why they worked although I was fairly good at getting the answer that I was told was correct.

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 05/01/2016 - 11:24

Some Old Hulks Carry A Huge Tub Of Ale

Remember that agov?

agov's picture
Tue, 05/01/2016 - 18:10


Never heard it.

Does it mean something? Some sort of naval mutiny against rum?

Barry Wise's picture
Tue, 05/01/2016 - 18:37

Making sense of trig functions and the trig tables in the log tables book:

Some Old Hulks = Sine: Opposite over Hypotenuse

Carry A Huge = Cosine: Adjacent over Hypotenuse

Tub Of Ale = Tangent: Opposite over Adjacent

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