Rejecting grids just doesn't add up

10th January 2014 at 00:00

Are TES readers aware that the government is discouraging the use of grid multiplying in England's schools? Initially it did this by removing method marks for wrong answers found in this way from primary Sats tests, but I have no doubt that its aims go much deeper.

The justification from education minister Elizabeth Truss at the time was that "they may give the right answer but they are not quick, efficient methods, nor are they methods children can build on and apply to more complicated problems".

Since reading that, I have offered Ms Truss a number of examples of the value of grid multiplying in the seamless transition from arithmetic to algebra. The way it is set out means that it can be used in the same format for multiplying out algebraic expressions - even those involving negatives - so that, for example, treating 23 x 17 as (20 + 3) x (20 - 3) on a grid leads to an understanding of the difference of two squares. I have also asked Ms Truss and others in the Department for Education for examples of long multiplying "applying to more complicated problems" and have received none.

My background as a secondary head of maths meant that, on retirement, when I volunteered in my local primary school I could use such examples of post-Sats work to help students in their transition to secondary algebra.

In her latest letter to my MP about grid multiplying, Ms Truss sticks to the argument that the department is unconvinced "based on the considerable emphasis that high-performing jurisdictions like Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore put on arithmetic, and the fact that neither the statutory curriculum nor approved textbooks of these jurisdictions make any reference to informal methods such as the grid method".

To me, that is an admission that the "doesn't lead anywhere" argument about grid multiplying cannot be used any more because it has been demonstrated that it clearly does - and it is long multiplying that does not.

Mike Rath, Barnstaple.

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