All set to move with the times tables

2nd March 2007 at 00:00
Maths testing three times a week works wonders

Few primary heads would suggest that their pupils need to be tested more often. But Andrew Dunn has pioneered a new maths scheme based on exactly this principle.

Mr Dunn, assistant director of children's services for Darlington, developed the test-based I Can Do Maths programme while head of Coatham primary in Redcar, North Yorkshire.

At the beginning of the year, all key stage 2 pupils are given a 100-question maths test to determine their ability. They are then allocated a book to work from according to their level. Each week, pupils complete three tests of around 30 questions. On Fridays, they separate into ability groups, each led by its own teacher who works through the questions, explaining how they should be answered.

"It can be difficult to make sure everyone in a mixed-ability class is making proper progress," said Mr Dunn. "Often children are rushed through basic skills. If they grasp them, fine. But if they don't, they're at an immediate disadvantage. This pitches the work at each child's level, so they all progress."

As Coatham's results began to improve, Mr Dunn was approached by educational publisher Schofield and Sims. An I Can Do Maths textbook and DVD-Rom will be published this month.

Last summer, the Social Market Foundation think tank recommended that primary pupils should be placed in sets according to ability and tested every eight weeks. Teachers' unions criticised the excessive emphasis on testing.

But Mr Dunn is unapologetic. "We aren't saying this is an exam, a pressured situation," he said. "It's just part of the school day. We've got number-happy children with a thirst for knowledge."

And, he said, the tests have an added benefit - once pupils become accustomed to them, they are less flustered by Year 6 exams.

Norma Newell, head of Whale Hill primary in Middlesbrough, agrees. She introduced Mr Dunn's scheme after observing Coatham's success. Before the launch, only 55 per cent of her pupils achieved level 4 in key stage 2 maths. Last year, 83 per cent reached level 4 and 49 per cent got level 5.

"In the past, we were working our socks off and getting nowhere," she said.

"This is skill and drill, in a good, fun way. We're giving kids the bread-and-butter bits: times tables, how many metres in a kilometre."

Staff and pupils are so enthusiastic that they begin work on maths questions at 8.40am, even though school does not officially start until 9am. And pupils perform X Factor-style dance routines in assembly to the rhythm of the multiplication tables.

Georgia Rooney, an 11-year-old at the school, has not yet joined them. "I'm too shy," she said. "I normally dance to Girls Aloud. This is a bit different. But I like maths. Every week, you're determined to get full marks. But it doesn't feel like being tested."


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