The government has recently announced that all Year 4 students will be tested on their times tables and expected to be able to recall all facts up to 12 x 12 at speed and accurately.

Why are we interested in this?

Five years ago we formed a company with the single aim of developing resources to help children master their times tables.

Our first product was a Flipp Flopps Times Tables booklet designed to help kids practise recalling their tables out of order.
We are a team of two, one teacher (Kaz), one businessman (Baz). Both of us believe basic maths knowledge is vital to negotiate life successfully, but we have quite different views and experiences of testing, teaching and times tables. What follows is our discussion of the proposed testing:

Why is times tables testing a sensible government initiative?

Baz : I believe the government wants its citizens to be capable of competing in a global marketplace, and therefore we need our children to be equipped for the future. In many walks of life, performance is measured to determine improvement or otherwise.If we gather data about performance, we can adapt to try and ensure improvement rather than perpetuate a decline. A better educated workforce will help the UK economy longer term.

Kaz: I think the Government has good intentions too, and I definitely want children to leave school confident and competent mathematicians. Will testing fast and accurate recall of times tables achieve this? Is there a link between knowledge of times tables and good mathematical thinking? What about the kids with poor memory skills and slow processing speeds? What is going to happen to the test data?

What are the pros and cons of testing times tables?

Baz: Testing should enable measurement, and if you cannot measure something, how do you know if it is acceptable or not, needs to improve or not?. We also know that testing everyone the same way is an imperfect approach – whether it is times tables, or a vehicle driving test. But, what’s the alternative way of gathering objective data? I mastered my times tables at an early age, but suffered the equivalent of maths anxiety in my driving tests, and only managed to pass at the third attempt.

Kaz: Testing recall of facts at speed is highly satisfying for kids with good memories and fast processing speed. But one test doesn’t fit all kids; for some children it causes anxiety, and even long term loathing of mathematics in those with poor memory skills and slower processing speeds. Schools minister Nick Gibb refused to answer 8×9 on morning television.

The public humiliation of getting tables facts wrong scars some people for life, and for far too long too many children and parents have associated quick recall of facts with ‘being good at maths’. The mastery approach being introduced across the UK recognises the importance of understanding the concepts and being able to think flexibly. Yes knowledge of facts is important, but being able to use and apply knowledge is the real long term aim of good mathematics teaching.

How can our Flipp Flopps Times Tables booklets help children?

Kaz: Flipp Flopps puts children in charge of assessing their knowledge of times tables. They write and mark their answers and their scores can remain private. The booklets provide mini tests that encourage the children to reflect on which facts they need to recall more confidently and they can then, in collaboration with their peers or their teachers, find a strategy for improving their recall. The emphasis is on teaching rather than testing, on improvement as well as attainment.

Baz: My business background has been in technology – managing software developments and telecoms projects. We are deliberately ‘swimming against the tide’ with a non-screen, non-app based times table self-testing, self-marking product. However, it does allow a child to learn times tables facts without any of the anxiety of “performing in front of their peers”. Even in the classroom, each child can practise learning their tables individually, ahead of the inevitable test that will follow in future. At the very least, this will help a high proportion to achieve a better result – this assertion is based on the results measured from our trials of Flipp Flopps in 2014 !