Teaching makes the difference to learning progress, but tests show what is known and what needs to be taught

A response to ‘Multiplication tables check "an unnecessary burden"’

By Alison Taylor, Voice Scotland member (a personal viewpoint)

A number of schools across England will be trialling the multiplication tables check in Year 4, and Voice, while not opposed to the learning of times tables, has taken the view that the multiplication tables check is not necessary. “It is teaching, not testing, that makes a difference and enables pupils’ learning.” (‘Multiplication tables check "an unnecessary burden"’.)

I think that the issue of teachers’ workload is of huge concern across the whole of the UK, but it is different across the countries.

In Scotland, we do not have SATs. We are in the process of bringing in new Scottish National Standardised Assessments (SNSA) for P1, P4, P7 and S3 this session.  Each authority and/or school decides on what other regular assessments, standardised assessments, checks, screening etc. that they do, with whom and how often.

I wholeheartedly agree that it is the teaching that makes the difference to progress in learning, not any test.  However, tests help to show what is known and what needs to be taught or revised etc. to move on in the learning.

I would say my experience here in Scotland is that:

  • firstly, we train our primary teachers poorly in how and what to teach for literacy and numeracy; and
  • secondly, class teachers are required to try and cover too much and do not have the time necessary to teach pupils mastery in literacy and numeracy (and give them oodles of practice) – which is why so many of our pupils go to secondary school with poor basic skills.

And therein lies the rub!  If class teachers have too much to do already, how do they have time to fit in tests?  Are they used to aid the teaching or put unfair pressure on teachers and the management?  If there is not enough time to teach the basic skills and knowledge, tests will show poor results – but this may not be due to bad teaching, but lack of time.

In Scotland, we do not have any national or regional testing of multiplication.  My experience is that teachers do not teach this knowledge well, so most pupils do not have the facts at their finger-tips in their long-term memory.  This means they get cognitive overload when trying to solve problems as they are trying to do too many things in their working memory.  I am currently working with a small group of P6s (England’s Year 5) and none of them know their two or five times tables yet.  The only one they know is ten.

The class teachers complain because the pupils do not have basic knowledge at their finger-tips, but do not have the time to dedicate to the learning and teaching required to develop it.

I feel that testing here would perhaps highlight to management, authorities and Scottish Government that there is a problem.  I do not have faith that, even with the data, they would reduce the curriculum workload for primary teachers to make space for good learning.

Do let us know your views below.

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