The Headteacher column: Will on-screen maths tests add up?

The Market Weighton School headteacher Richard Harrison.
The Market Weighton School headteacher Richard Harrison.

In the first week of the New Year the Government announced that every pupil in England will be tested on their times tables before leaving primary school.

Pupils aged 11 will be expected to know their tables up to 12 x 12 and will be tested using an ‘on-screen check’.

Education Secretary said maths is as non-negotiable aspect of as good education.

Education Secretary said maths is as non-negotiable aspect of as good education.

The checks will be piloted to circa 3,000 pupils in 80 primary schools this summer, before being rolled out across the country in 2017.

Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, said: “Maths is a non-negotiable aspect of a good education”.

Does this imply that maths has been optional in some classrooms?

It is unhelpful to suggest that teachers are not already devoting large amounts of time to numeracy including times tables.

Is the Minister for Education suggesting that we go back to the rote learning of tables so that every child can recite 9 x 8 = 72 without thinking?

Knowing how to multiply two numbers is certainly a crucial skill that all pupils leaving primary school should have, but I question whether introducing another high stakes test is the answer.

It was reported that the ‘on-screen check’ examination will involve children completing multiplication challenges against the clock, which will be scored instantly.

I can imagine the stress this will put on pupils and could only serve to reinforce a belief that maths is hard or that a pupil ‘can’t do maths’.

Numeracy skills are important and the ability to do mental arithmetic is a key part of this but schools are already teaching and testing this skill.

My niece who is seven years old and is currently in Year 3, and nephew who has just completed his first term of Year 7 received the board game Scrabble for a Christmas present.

We played several games when they visited over the holidays.

I was impressed with their enthusiasm for the game, trying to add words that maximised their score by using triple word and letter squares whenever possible.

This was providing an opportunity for numeracy and literacy; they were loving it and it was the middle of the Christmas holiday!

We also chatted about how they were doing at school and particularly how my nephew had coped with transition to a large secondary school.

He had been stressed about the changes and the thought of getting things wrong as he is keen to do well.

Perhaps the emphasis from Government should be ensuring every school has a full complement of qualified teachers or to develop teaching methods for those pupils who are failing to make the expected progress.

I am not sure that rote learning or another high stakes test is the answer?