The return to school this week goes hand in hand with new government plans for every child to know their Times Tables, up to twelve times, before they leave primary school at the age of eleven. The children will be given on-screen tests this summer – or checks as the government likes to call them – to assess their knowledge with a view to the procedure becoming school wide next year.
The education secretary Nicky Morgan feels that maths is a ‘non-negotiable’ subject and sees the rote learning of times tables as a valuable part of a child’s maths education.
This may be the case, although many would dispute it, but what’s rather worrying is the manner in which they are to be learned as she also says that teachers will be judged on these results and held accountable. (See the news report here)
This will inevitably change teachers’ behaviour towards pupils, possibly towards a more coercive style if they feel that there is a real threat to their status as a result of their children’s performance. And it is bound to make already over stretched and over stressed teachers more so, lowering their already dwindling morale.
What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that results are not necessarily a reflection of the competence of the teachers. That’s the problem Ofsted comes up against, expecting all schools and staff to produce the same results irrespective of their catchment area, the cultural and financial setting, and the percentage of special needs within the school. All these factors can combine to make a school appear to be in ‘special measures’ despite the gallant efforts of staff to turn this around.
Although it is fair to expect teachers to perform professionally, measuring their effectiveness in terms of rote learning, as proposed for the Times Tables, is not going to enhance that. I suspect it is more likely to make the whole learning climate a negative one, rather than the positive one it should be. And some argue that this move is little more than another political strategy on the part of the minister to gain popularity. There is little in depth philosophy or purpose embedded in it. And whilst rote learning may have some use, it can mask the real danger of neglecting true understanding which is the essence of true education.
One home educator interviewed by the BBC made the comment that it is just these kinds of destructive policies which deflect the real need of education to develop that understanding, and is often the reason why so many parents are turning their back on the system and home educating. This puts them in charge of their children’s activities, with far more time and opportunity to see that understanding is developed, over and above learning anything parrot fashion.
Knowing Times Tables is useful, possibly. But is rote learning the best use of teacher and pupil time when you can look up the answer on your device? Do we need to move on with our comprehension of what kids need to know?
And would your child’s time be better spent on more fulfilling and meaningful activities?