Morgan’s online times tables check leads way for more screen-based assessments

Nicky Morgan’s announcement that children will take “high-stakes” online times-tables tests at the end of primary school could herald the start of more examinations moving online.

Mathspace chief executive and teacher Tim Stirrup says it is a shame the tests will be done in a single “high stakes”, setting given that schools already teach up to the 12 times-table from year 4.

“Why not have a series of lower stakes tests throughout years 4 to 6 that build evidence of a pupil’s skill over time? Low-stake tests that can be done when the pupil is ready. Tests that can be redone; tests that show progress over time.”

On Sunday, the education secretary said the tests would involve pupils giving timed responses to a series of questions, with their answers scored instantly.

The tests will be piloted in about 80 schools this summer, with a full roll-out across England in 2017, but the Department for Education (DfE) will not say which schools will take part, nor how they will be chosen.

Former primary school teacher and Open University lecturer Lucy Rycroft-Smith warns that putting a time limit on tests creates problems for “children who panic, worry or aren’t confident mathematicians”.

She says that she is “extremely worried” the tests will create an incentive to cheat, which could further “degrade the reputation of teachers”.

“Teachers will focus even more on pupils learning times-tables, to the detriment of understanding maths properly and enjoying solving problems.”

However, Charlie Stripp, the director of the National Centre for Excellence in Teaching of Mathematics, says the ability to recall times-tables swiftly is an “important part” of what children learn at primary school and the tests could help them to achieve their goals.

No information is currently available from the DfE on who will run the tests, or the costs involved.

But a source says the pilot will evaluate the viability of moving more primary school assessments online. The government recently launched a review of assessments for seven-year-olds, with externally marked tests slated as a possibility.

The move has been criticised by shadow education secretary Lucy Powell, who said “chaotic shortages of maths teachers” was a greater issue.

“Times-tables have long been a core part of excellent numeracy in our primary schools, and of testing,” she said.

Ms Morgan defended the move, saying that the test would help teachers “recognise those pupils at risk of falling behind and allow us to target those areas where children aren’t been given a fair shot to succeed”.

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