In primary school, when a child is first developing an understanding of mathematics, I believe a structured emphasis on learning the foundational skills is key. Without a thorough understanding of basic principles such as times tables, a child will be unable to grasp the more complex mathematical problems they will face as they continue their education.
The new maths curriculum, which was introduced in 2014, went some way to addressing this with a more structured approach to teaching. However, there is still work to be done if we want to improve our children’s ability to meet the mathematical challenges they will face in secondary school and beyond.
The government has announced that all 11-year-olds will be tested on their times tables before leaving primary school, as part of the Department for Education’s “war on innumeracy and illiteracy”. I see this as a step in the right direction. The ability to recite times tables is a crucial skill and I agree that a formal, nationwide test is the only way to measure this. Without testing our children how can we be sure that these key skills have been acquired?
In order to pass the test children will need to know their times tables up to the 12 times table by the age of eleven years old. This is an improvement on the current system but I would like to see us work towards a situation where all children know their times tables by their ninth birthday. A sound recall of times tables forms a strong foundation for all maths learning that follows and without this skill a child is likely to struggle. Learning times tables gives children an understanding of number bonds up to and beyond 100, and also means they have no need for calculators when learning to multiply and divide using the pen and paper method.
The test will see the first use of on-screen technology in nationwide testing as children will complete it on a computer. There is something quite heartening in seeing the most modern of methods used to assess a skill that is once again being given the credence it deserves. This is a welcome revival and one I know will make a huge difference to the maths ability of children across the country.