Students on computers

Will Nicky Morgan do better than Gove on the 12 times table test

By: The Leader @theleaderspeaks
Published: Sunday, July 27, 2014 - 21:16 GMT Jump to Comments

Children need educating for the future since that is where they are headed. Education ministers with a nostalgic hankering for a former "golden age" deserve detention.

Now that Michael Gove is no longer in charge at Education we can only hope that it will not be too long before someone with a little more wisdom and a wider historic perspective reviews some of his more eccentric rulings on the teaching of mathematics in primary schools.

In 2013 Gove enforced the reintroduction of compulsory parroting of the twelve times table for year four pupils.

When this was announced, The Leader asked all of the staff in Information Daily Towers if they had any idea why we learned the 12 times tables and not the thirteen or fifteen times. Or why we did not, for example, stop at the eleven times?

Of the twenty-nine people surveyed (youngest 19, oldest 32) not one (that’s 0%) had any idea why 12 was the magic cut-off point when it came to multiplication tables. In fact, since the beginning of the 1970s, learning the twelve times table has been at best an act of nostalgia and at worst a complete waste of valuable childhood time.

Those of us who went to school before 1971 learned the twelve times table because there were 12 pennies in the shilling. British coinage had pennies, threepenny pieces, sixpenny pieces and shillings (effectively a twelve penny piece). There were two hundred and forty pence in one pound and a pound was made up of twenty shillings. This is the only occasion when the Information Daily Style Guide allows the lazy journalist to use that awful construction “I’m talking old currency here”.

Furthermore, in 1971, cash machines and  credit/debit cards were in their infancy. Shopping of any sort was done in cash or by cheque written out in pounds, shillings and pence. It was, it must be understood, almost impossible to function if you did not have your twelve times tables at your fingertips.

Of course Gove was only four years old when Britain converted to decimal currency in 1971 and he may well have been one of those historically challenged dunderheads who never thought to ask the question “Why twelve?”

In 2013, winding back the clock, it was clear from some of the things Gove and his New Fogie friends in power said that the government thought they were returning the teaching of mathematics in this country to a time when learning and teaching were altogether better, a golden age of multiplication tables. In fact they were simply trying to return us to a time when our currency and coinage was so complicated that The Leader’s family were forced to employ an impoverished cousin who owned an abacus to accompany them as a family currency controller when they went on holiday in France.

Children need educating for the future since that is where they are headed. Any education policy that rests upon a nostalgic hankering for a former golden age should be stuffed up the policy maker.

Next week's homework will be Astrolabes for Beginners and centering the Quintain

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