Times tables check – what happens to children who don’t pass the test?

Schools Minister Nick Gibb has spoken about primary school pupils sitting a times table check from next year. He said how being able to multiply was a ‘very important’ part of a child’s maths knowledge. He went on to say that if a youngster is trying to perform long multiplication or long division they need to know their times tables.

Comment from Anne Watson, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Education, University of Oxford:
“The helpfulness of this depends on what is meant by ‘times tables’ and what is meant by ‘test’. What people need in order to do calculations are fast retrieval methods for multiplication facts rather than a recitation, so that the number 24 triggers 6×4, 3×8 etc. and then 48 can be constructed from 2×24 in various ways.

For division much depends on having a hunch about an appropriate multiple, so knowing that 6×4 is a bit less than 26 might be useful as well. The 11 and 12 times tables (which are included in the National Curriculum) are not needed for the calculations that Nick Gibb mentions so presumably will not be tested; for long multiplication only tables up to nine times are necessary.

But my main concern is what he has in mind for the children who do not pass the test. This group will include children with undiagnosed dyslexia, test anxiety, possibly some with slower physical response if this is a timed test, and might even include those who have perfectly good and fast methods of retrieval that do not fit with the test design. If this is to lead to retesting ad nauseam until it is passed, what mathematics is going to be missed meanwhile and how much dislike of mathematics is going to be generated?

If this is really a way to ensure that teachers do urge pupils to learn multiplication facts he ought to provide us with the evidence that this is not happening before subjecting every child to another test.”

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