Nine-year-olds should recite times tables by heart, says Schools Minister

The Telegraph is reporting schools minister Nick Gibb as suggesting that primary schools should start maths lessons with traditional times table memory sessions to ensure children master “instant recall” by the age of nine…

Pupils should know their tables up to 12 x 12 by heart two years before completing primary education, said Nick Gibb.

He said “early memorisation” of the multiplication tables was vital to ensure pupils developed a fluency in the maths before tackling more complex subjects at a later stage.

The minister praised schools that were seeking to ensure pupils master basic skills by introducing Chinese-style “fluency sessions and times tables tests at the start of each lesson”, insisting they were a “helpful step forward”.

The comments were made in a letter to 30 Shanghai teachers who have been working in English state schools over the last month to help improve standards of maths.

n the letter, he praised their focus on “the mastery approach” and insisted it was right that pupils spend “more time on high-quality, productive practice” to develop a “deeper, stronger mathematical understanding”.

Mr Gibb told the Telegraph that English pupils were now three years behind their Chinese peers by the age of 15 and similar methods should be adopted across the state education system to help close the gap…

Mr Gibb said: “I believe very strongly that every primary school pupil should know all their tables by heart, with instant recall by the end of year four at the latest; and should start learning their tables no later than year two.

“Our teachers have been eager to explore how you achieve the high level of fluency with tables and some schools are already introducing special ‘fluency sessions’ and times tables tests at the start of each lesson, which is a helpful step forward.

“Over time we intend to roll out the key elements of the Shanghai approach to maths more widely and truly transform the way maths is taught in this country, to ensure that the aims of the new curriculum are fully met…”

More at: Nine-year-olds should recite times tables by heart, says Schools Minister


Maths teachers out there – what say you about these suggestions from Nick Gibb? Do they have merit? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove I have no issue with students knowing their tables; I do have an issue with a minister telling me how to teach my lessons

  2. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove A Chinese style of teaching clearly works well in China; what Gibb doesn’t realise is it won’t necessarily work in the UK

  3. pompeyanne

    SchoolsImprove I disagree, there’s no point learning them by rote is they can’t use them. Better off counting in multiples fluently

  4. pompeyanne

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove yep it’s just going back to rote learning with no meaning or application. Ggrrrr glad I’m out of the system.

  5. andylutwyche

    pompeyanne SchoolsImprove It’s like Gibb has driven his DeLoreon back from his own 1960s schooling. Clueless ministerial guff

  6. HughdjNicklin

    SchoolsImprove Why not? They’ve nothing much else to do and it will be handy when they understand what they mean. Same with Latin

  7. andylutwyche

    pompeyanne SchoolsImprove Strangely enough you’re not the only one thinking, saying or doing that! Massive teaching shortage looming

  8. pompeyanne

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove yep and even a drop in people those training. The sad thing is kids want to be teachers cos it’s all they know

  9. andylutwyche

    pompeyanne SchoolsImprove The fact that there is a huge (& presumably expensive) advertising campaign promising big £ speaks volumes

  10. andylutwyche

    pompeyanne SchoolsImprove They can’t attract anyone to do the job so are promising money that nobody in the real job actually receives

  11. pompeyanne

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove oh yes! But don’t forget the politicians get a lovely pay rise!! (I’m not bitter 😉 )

  12. andylutwyche

    pompeyanne SchoolsImprove They don’t help themselves at all – their public profile is at an all time low and they award themselves a rise

  13. fratribus

    educationbear This sounds reminiscent of my experience in Taiwan. Whole-class of 60 kids chanting away. Lesson from the East?

  14. educationbear

    fratribus Yes U0001f603! I’d be interested to hear the views of other colleagues as ‘times tables’ crop up in this way every few years!!

  15. brighton118

    andylutwyche SchoolsImprove – Agree totally. Vote catching soundbites. I used to use music to aid learning tables, many knew x12 by 9 yrs.

  16. SchoolAdvisorUK

    SchoolsImprove It worked 4 me, & I made sure our daughter used this method too! Times tables 4 her – not a problem! #rateyourschool

  17. Janet2

    @SchoolAdvisorUK SchoolsImprove Ah, the good old anecdote used as evidence.  But here’s an anecdote that cancels out the one above.  I passed O level maths (inc log tables, no calculators, parabolas, trigonometry) but ask me to recall tables above about 6 and I’m like a rabbit in headlights.

  18. Janet2

    Nick Gibb confuses understanding with the superficial.  Yes, knowing tables can lead to higher understanding of mathematics but it’s not essential.  Useful, yes; essential, no.  And reciting something doesn’t necessarily demonstrate understanding.   I can recite the first verse of Brahm’s lullaby in German but I don’t know what most of the words mean.

  19. Janet2

    @andylutwyche SchoolsImprove When Gibb talks about ‘China’ he means Shanghai.  That’s where 25% of the cohort taking the 2012 PISA tests were missing, according to the OECD.

  20. Janet2

    @beyondbehaviour SchoolsImprove Could be the National College Report on Research into Maths and Science Teaching in the Shanghai Region published after visiting Shanghai in January 2013 (and before it was known that 25% of Shanghai pupils in the 2012 cohort were missing from the 2012 PISA tests which rather takes the shine off Shanghai’s achievement).

    The researchers found pupils’ knowledge of maths was ‘impressive’ but warned the sample size was small and some schools (eg middle schools) were not visited.


  21. Janet2

    National College researchers (Jan 2013) visited Shanghai and
    were impressed with pupils’ recall but stressed:

    ‘The key feature of Maths lessons is their daily
    regularity and the emphasis on practice which, unlike rote learning,
    supports deep learning.’  (p31)

    Gibb was right to highlight ‘practice’ but wrong when he associated it with ‘rote learning’ and

    Download report here:

  22. janboo

    SchoolsImprove Stop telling teachers how to teach! You don’t tell Drs how to operate! Attending school as child does not an expert make!

  23. kalowski

    The Maths Gene by Keith Devlin suggests that most people successfully learn times tables by rote, committing it to long term memory. I rarely agree with Tories, but there’s nothing wrong with this. We can build understanding around it.

  24. kalowski

    But knowing in this case can aid understanding. If you were asked 7 x 9 would you calculate it or just reply from long term memory?

  25. BenBigMaths

    Southgloshead Sure does! They really don’t need to turn to China to find this approach. BM has all the answers! Andrell_Ed AndrellCurtis

  26. lost_in_midgar

    SchoolsImprove When did this stop? Did they need an expensive trip to Shanghai to figure it out? So glad Govt is pointing out the obvious.

  27. Janet2

    kalowski I agree knowing tables CAN aid understanding but recitation doesn’t imply ‘knowing’ in the sense that it aids recall. It can do.  But it’s not foolproof.  A child may be able to recite tables but if asked for 7 x 9, say, s/he may not necessarily be able to recall it instantly.

    However, 7 x 9 is easy.  Multiplying any single number by nine is easy.  You just take one from the digit you want to multiply by 9.  In this case 7-1= 6.  The difference between 6 and 9 is 3.  So the answer is 63.  That’s my method as I have problems with instant recall (still passed O level maths 50 years ago without a calculator – just a dog-eared book of log tables).

    Just to make it clear, though, I’m not saying children shouldn’t learn tables BUT this should be accompanied by activities which ensure understanding.  Concrete activities should always precede abstract ones.

    I’m not sure Nick Gibb understands this.

  28. kalowski

    Hi Janet2 – Are you demonstrating knowledge or understanding?
    “Multiplying any single number by nine is easy.  You just take one from the digit you want to multiply by 9.  In this case 7-1= 6.  The difference between 6 and 9 is 3.  So the answer is 63 ” can you explain why it works? Do you understand it?
    I should point out I know why it works, but I’m in the fortunate position of having a degree in mathematics and knowing how to work modulo 9.

  29. Janet2

    kalowski Janet2 Good question.  Could I explain it?  No.  But I understand that multiplication is repeated addition and division is reverse multiplication (excuse me if I’ve got the terminology wrong but I know what I mean).

    Fortunately I’ve never had to teach maths but I am interested in way of multiplying which didn’t require recall (as I have difficulty with this) eg multiplication squares, Napier’s Bones.  And I liked playing with uniblocks and Cuisenaire rods.

    I’ve heard an abacus can be used for multiplying but I haven’t been able to work out how.

    Do these Chinese children use an abacus?  Should it be introduced in schools here?

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