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We did little preparation for the pilot of the MTC (Multiplication Tables Check), I just thought we’d have a go and see how it would all work out.

Interesting how it’s called a check – I assume this is to avoid the people of the world saying “oh, not another test!”

The ICT Suite was booked out for two afternoons which was more than ample time for two year four classes. Many children were excited to take part, some got on with it reluctantly as they didn’t think they were going to do well, and some had that glazed look they always seem to have as they didn’t really know what was going at all!

I looked on, trying to learn as much as I could from the whole process – thinking more ahead to next year when it will matter a little more:

  • Desktops seem better than laptops – number lock on and using the keypad. Accessing the screen number pad with a mouse just slows everything down. And it is a race against the clock.
  • Make sure the computers have all the keys. The younger children like to pick them off.
  • Make the most of the access arrangements – it helped those children who used it to have someone else type the answers. The guidance calls it ‘Input assistance’ – and one of the criteria to be eligible for this is ‘able to input, but inputs very slowly’. There is no further guidance on what this means – it is completely open to interpretation.
  • Make sure your children have gone to the toilet beforehand.

The Year 6 teachers think the whole thing is great. A little more pressure lower in the key stage takes a little pressure off the upper key stage. The current fad (thanks to Ofsted) is that schools should be making sure that there is a broad curriculum. I know that the check says it is a test of fluency (or speed in real language) – fair enough, this is a requirement of the National Curriculum. But I do worry that this test (sorry, check), will narrow the mathematics curriculum in schools. On the one hand we are being told to ‘deepen’ the understanding in maths, but then we are being held to account for reciting facts. Schools unapologetically focus on tests in year 6. And then there is the phonics ‘check’ – this may improve children’s decoding, but there is no importance given to understanding. It is often said that children can now ‘read’ at this age, but often this is at the expense of comprehension. There is also a knock-on effect on writing if phonics dominates the curriculum.

Back to accountability – we know that the results will be included in the ASP and Inspection Dashboard from 2020. Will times tables become a ‘key line of enquiry’ for an inspection? The inspection framework is changing, and the format too – all for the better in my honest opinion. Those short inspections are just too narrow and miss all the things that really make schools ‘good’. Please don’t let it be that children stop learning about arrays and groups, and please don’t let children think that you are just adding a 0 when multiplying by 10. Will parents now choose schools based on how well they do in their times tables? If we are going to formally check the ability of children in maths at this age, it would make more sense to do an arithmetic test covering a broader range of skills. The MTC is just too narrow to have any real use or purpose.

All may become clearer over the next 12 months with regards to a pass mark, however from section 5.4 ‘Results and reporting’ of the Multiplication tables check assessment framework, it says:

“At the end of the assessment window, a total score out of 25 will be reported to each school for all of their pupils who took the check.
There will be no expected standard threshold for the MTC.”

Multiplication tables check assessment framework – November 2018

Reading through various forums, many people are interpreting this to mean the pass mark is 25 out of 25. I don’t read it this way. It’s just saying that we will get scores for each child out of 25 for the pilot which we did. I read that the government has not decided yet. It seems harsh that a keyboard error could have such an impact. But we are all left wondering….how well did we do?

Well, a friend of mine, who is a mathematics consultant, has been collating results from schools and passed me the information. The data is from roughly 150 schools, and includes results from about 7500 pupils. No way near the 16,000 plus primary schools in England, but a sizeable sample at least.

Some findings:

  • The average score 18/25
  • 17% of all children scored 25/25
  • 28% of all children scored at least 24/25
  • 53% of all children scored at least 20/25.

Full marks:

  • 2% of schools had more than 50% of their children getting 25/25
  • 4% of schools had more than 40% of their children getting 25/25
  • 7% of schools had more than 30% of their children getting 25/25
  • 16% of schools had more than 20% of their children getting 25/25
  • 44% of schools had more than 10% of their children getting 25/25
  • 73% of schools had more than 5% of their children getting 25/25.

Nearly full marks (maybe a finger slipped on the keyboard): (24/25)

  • 6% of schools had more than 50% of their children getting at least 24/25
  • 10% of schools had more than 40% of their children getting at least 24/25
  • 20% of schools had more than 30% of their children getting at least 24/25
  • 36% of schools had more than 20% of their children getting at least 24/25
  • 66% of schools had more than 10% of their children getting at least 24/25
  • 86% of schools had more than 5% of their children getting at least 24/25.

Did pretty well (most adults couldn’t get 25/25 within 6 seconds): (20/25)

  • 25% of schools had more than 50% of their children getting at least 20/25
  • 36% of schools had more than 40% of their children getting at least 20/25
  • 48% of schools had more than 30% of their children getting at least 20/25
  • 72% of schools had more than 20% of their children getting at least 20/25
  • 91% of schools had more than 10% of their children getting at least 20/25
  • 96% of schools had more than 5% of their children getting at least 20/25.

I’m sure I could have presented this better, but hopefully it will help in seeing where you are compared to other schools.

Roll on next year when hopefully everything will be clearer, or it gets ditched because there is a change of government and we have all wasted our time. Whatever happens, please don’t narrow your curriculum.

Secret Teacher

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