All children will be tested on their times tables as part of their KS2 Sats, under new plans unveiled by education secretary Nicky Morgan this morning.
The tests will examine multiplication skills in every 11-year-old as part of ministers’ “war on innumeracy and illiteracy”, the Department for Education said.
Pupils will expected to know all tables up to 12×12, with the skill measured using an “on-screen check” examination to be piloted by 3,000 students in 80 schools this summer before being rolled out across English primaries in 2017.
Mrs Morgan warned that schools will be held accountable for the results of the tests.
She told the Sunday Telegraph: “Maths is a non-negotiable of a good education. Since 2010, we’ve seen record numbers of 11-year-olds start secondary school with a good grasp of the three Rs. But some continue to struggle.
“That is why, as part of our commitment to extend opportunity and deliver educational excellence everywhere we are introducing a new check to ensure that all pupils know their times tables by age 11.”
The move will attract a strong reaction from the education community. Late last year Jo Boaler, professor of maths education at Stanford University, told a conference in London that the increased focus on memorising times tables was “terrible”.
Professor Boaler said: “It is not terrible to remember maths facts; what is terrible is sending kids away to memorise them and giving them tests on them which will set up this maths anxiety.”
She added that although some children were fine with timed tests, others were not. But she said the message of timed tests was that being able to memorise things quickly was the same thing as being good at maths.
“Governments saying everybody has to memorise their times tables to 12×12 is absolutely disastrous,” she added.
But Ms Morgan insisted the tests were right for pupils. “They will help teachers recognise those at risk of falling behind and allow us to target those areas where children aren’t being given a fair shot to succeed.”
The new tests will see children complete multiplication challenges against the clock, which will be scored instantly, with the DfE saying it is the first use of on-screen technology in National Curriculum tests.