Testing Tables


It’s half term! Time for rest, recuperation and a government announcement about testing. By now, this pattern of releasing information, that the DfE suspects a lot of teachers will hate, during school holidays is so commonplace it’s hardly worth mustering up the energy to be annoyed. And yet…

I don’t think the Gibb has quite grasped how edu-Twitter works. If he was hoping he could slip a new idea under the radar without teachers noticing, announcing it at a time when every teacher is wasting time on Twitter, rather than catching up on their marking, seems rather foolish. It is exactly during these term-time breaks when teachers actually will have the time to learn what their paymasters are planning. He should have announced it the week before the Christmas play, then we definitely wouldn’t have heard about it, even by now.

Anyway, times tables tests for primary school children. Cut straight to the strong opinions of educationalists across the internet and it’s a predictable cacophony of opinions: broken childhoods, stressed teachers, narrowing curriculum, exactly what is needed, maths is important, it’s a cynical ploy to create artificial accountability measures for schools, it’s helping teachers know the gaps, it’s undermining the professional respect for teachers’ assessments, but I quite liked learning my times tables when I was young…I could go on.

Now, it may be because I’m currently sunning myself in the Canary Islands where San Miguel is safer to drink than the tap water, but I’m not that bothered about these new tests. I can’t really see their true value and therefore I feel a little apathetic towards the whole thing.

First up, times tables are already on the curriculum so technically the children’s mental recall of them should be sound. Unless, like the phonic test, sorry ‘screening’, they plan to give the children some nonsense times tables to grapple with (the product of 7 and 23 is phlob), it should just be an electronic extension of the weekly times tables tests most children currently suffer on a Friday afternoon.

Then, of course, there is the argument put forward by so many Year 6 teachers: too many children arrive in Year 6 not being fluent in their times tables so bring on a bit more accountability for the lower year group teachers. Again, why not?

The reason ‘why not’ comes mostly from the fact that a child being able to answer a set number times tables questions in Year 4 will not necessarily mean they are fluent. Anyone who thinks they will be is guilty of wishful thinking. Some children will learn them and retain the information. Some won’t. Some will be able to learn them off by heart and retain them for a brief period of time but their rapid recall will become increasingly less rapid. Take me, for example, despite my mother’s best efforts, I can still only confidently remember the answer to 8 x 8 and that is because the answer vaguely rhymes with ‘sick on the floor’. If I were a Year 4 child I would be able to learn them in order to pass a test but I guarantee that my Year 6 teacher would be lamenting the fact that when asked a quick-fire multiplication question I would freeze up faster than a cherry popsicle in a blizzard.

The answer to getting children to have deep-set fluency is a quality curriculum that is built upon each year by effective teaching. This is trickier to pull off than a 5-minute online test but, hey, this is Mr Gibb we’re talking about. (And don’t give me that nonsense about only after administering this test will teachers know if their pupils know their times-tables…that’s just guff.)

So, in summary: it’s a little tedious and it won’t really mean much (if your school is focused on effective teaching and learning), but, it probably won’t hurt much either (if your school is focused on effective teaching and learning) . Number bond testing for Early Years kiddies however…now you’re talking.