Government trials times tables test for eight-year-olds despite opposition from teacher unions and parents

Education

Thousands of eight and nine-year-olds in England will trial a controversial new times tables test this spring despite opposition from teaching unions and parents.

Ministers announced plans to introduce a multiplication check for Year 4 pupils in autumn last year, following a review of primary school assessment. 

And today the Department for Education (DfE) has said it will trial the check – which will be made compulsory in 2020 – this spring with around 7,250 pupils in almost 300 primary schools in England.

Ministers argue that the check will help children to know their times tables off by heart before starting secondary school – but critics say primary school pupils are already over tested. 

Nick Brook, deputy general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, called the government’s commitment to the multiplication tables test “hugely disappointing”. 

He said: “Although school results won’t be published, this government test will be scrutinised by Ofsted when they visit and therefore become even more significant. 

“A pupil’s primary school years are already cluttered with tests and checks. We want all children to succeed at school, but the answer isn’t to test them more.”

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), added that the teaching union was opposed to the “unnecessary and expensive test”. 

She said: “The test will tell teachers nothing they don’t already know, will disrupt teaching and simply reflects a ministerial obsession with testing children.”

On the trials, school standards minister Nick Gibb said: “Just as the phonics screening check helps children who are learning to read, the multiplication tables check will help teachers identify those pupils who require extra support.

“This will ensure that all pupils leave primary school knowing their times tables off by heart and able to start secondary school with a secure grasp of the fundamental mathematics they need to fulfil their potential.”

The check will last a maximum of five minutes and allow teachers to monitor a child’s progress, the DfE has said

Last week, Mr Gibb told a hearing on children’s mental health provision that young people should take exams earlier on to help alleviate exam pressures.

But the Let Our Kids Be Kids campaign, which was set up by parents, argue that a series of tests throughout primary school has increased the levels of stress on young children. 

A spokesperson for the campaign said: “Child development experts are being ignored, parents concerns are dismissed and the mental health crisis amongst our young children continues.”

“We are receiving letters from parents whose 10-year-old children are so worried about school results that they are talking of suicide,” the spokesperson told The Independent. 

She added: “The government have a clear alternative to this system – they need only look towards the Finnish model where children are allowed to develop at a natural pace and the school results are the best in the world.”

Additional reporting by PA 

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