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Wednesday, January 21, 1998 Published at 17:06 GMT


Minister's maths mistake

Stephen Byers arrives for his on air maths test

Stephen Byers fluffs his lines (23")
The minister responsible for standards in British schools went to the bottom of the class when he got his sums wrong in a radio interview.

Stephen Byers, interviewed on BBC Radio Five about government plans to improve numeracy in schools, was asked to multiply eight by seven.

"Fifty-four," said the minister, whose job is to raise standards in the classroom for reading, writing and arithmetic.

But a spokesman for the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said he still had full confidence in Byers, a junior minister regarded as one of the Government's rising stars.

"The Prime Minister and those responsible for government communications applaud anything which gets up in lights the issues we are seeking to promote," the spokesman said.

"It is one of those character-forming events," he added.

Mr Byers's boss, Education Secretary David Blunkett, was also almost caught out when asked in the middle of a briefing about the government's numeracy strategy.

He was asked to multiply nine by eight.

Mr Blunkett gave the correct answer, 72, but only after appearing to begin to give an answer beginning with six.

He joked: "Part of the joy of teaching was sometimes being able to reinforce your learning as you taught others."

"It's a long time since I've done my eight times-table. You have helped me refresh my rustiness.

The Byers gaffe was reminiscent of former American Vice-President Dan Quayle's attempt to improve the spelling of "potato" by adding an extra "e".

Mr Byers is a former law lecturer educated at Liverpool Polytechnic.

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