The key to children getting a headstart in life: knowing their times tables

Children, times tables, education, school - Glow Images/Getty Creative
Children, times tables, education, school - Glow Images/Getty Creative

Knowing your times tables is a “basic building block for success in life”, the schools minister has said, as multiplication test results for hundreds of thousands of nine-year-olds are published for the first time.

Nick Gibb said that the ability to recall any multiple up to 12 times 12 is an “immensely valuable skill” that has helped him in several areas of his life, from using complex maths as a chartered accountant to calculating the “best multi-pack supermarket bargains”.

Times table tests for Year 4 pupils in England were made compulsory for the first time this year. The computer-based tests completed in June gave nine-year-olds six seconds to answer 25 multiplication questions.

The test is designed to ensure the children know the answers by heart.

Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Gibb addressed a widely-reported incident on ITV’s Good Morning Britain in 2018 when he refused to answer the question: “What is eight times nine?”

Nick Gibb, schools minister, education, times tables - Luke Dray/Getty Images
Nick Gibb, schools minister, education, times tables - Luke Dray/Getty Images

The MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton said: “I refused to answer the question, fearing that under the pressure of a live television interview, I might slip and give the wrong answer, with the consequence of shaming newspaper headlines the next day.

“Alas, the following day’s newspapers ridiculed me anyway for not answering. In fact, I knew the answer was 72 since I’d learnt the multiplication tables up to 12 by heart by the time I was seven.”

Mr Gibb is a long-serving education minister who is said to be the single person most responsible for introducing phonics in early years, helping millions of children to read at a younger age.

He also brought in Michael Gove’s “knowledge-based” schools curriculum.

He was sacked by Boris Johnson in his Sep 2021 reshuffle after seven years in the Department for Education, but was reappointed by Rishi Sunak last month.

The Government announced plans to introduce times tables tests in 2018 as part of an ambition to make England a “world leader” in mathematics, alongside China and Singapore.

Mr Gibb said he did not expect all children to get 100 per cent and that improving standards across all schools is a “gradual task”.

He hopes that the test will build on the success of phonics, a reading system which requires pupils to sound out letters and words, which has been mandatory in schools since 2010.

Mr Gibb said: “The brain needs instant access to a store of information in its retained memory. This is why a knowledge-rich school curriculum is so important. The more knowledge there is in the information store, the easier it is to solve problems or think critically.”