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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 September 2006, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Earlier target for times tables
A girl counting
Pupils will have to know their times tables by the end of Year Three
Pupils in England will have to master their times tables a year earlier - by the age of eight, the government says.

Currently pupils are expected to grasp multiplication tables from two to 10 by the age of nine, but ministers say there is poor subsequent progress.

Last year, only 76% of 11-year-olds reached the level expected in their national curriculum tests, while the target was 85%.

The government also said phonics would be the "prime approach" for reading.

The decision to focus on synthetic phonics - where children learn the sounds of all the letters and combinations of letters first - for teaching reading follows the recommendations of former Ofsted inspections director Jim Rose.

We are concerned by some of this year's primary results
Department for Education and Skills

He said "high-quality phonic work" was the best means for teaching beginners how to read and spell.

Primary framework

The updated maths framework for primary schools places greater emphasis on mental arithmetic and will give teachers clearer guidance on the "effective use of calculators".

It also focuses on asking pupils to solve problems encountered in everyday life.

A Department for Education and Skills spokesman said: "We're proud of our overall record, but we are concerned by some of this year's primary results.

"We need to maintain momentum to bring about further improvement and we are already taking decisive action on our concerns.

"Literacy and numeracy in primary schools are the backbone of a good education.

"It's now time to update our strategies to reflect improvements in best practice."

The department says the framework will come into effect later this term.

Cabbages and caterpillars

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Education Secretary Alan Johnson visited a primary school in east London - Seven Mills - to mark the strategy changes.

Teacher Louise Needham asked visitors "Alan and Tony" to make the hard "c" sound as she taught her reception class a phonics lesson.

The children chanted "cat, caterpillar, candle, cake, cow, carrot" and sang their special song, Caterpillars Coughing C-C-C Down At Seven Mills - to Mr Blair's amusement.

"You are very good," he told them.

"I have never seen a lesson taught like this before - it's fantastic," he said.

Mixed opinions

Shadow Schools Minister Nick Gibb welcomed the changes, adding: "The new literacy framework puts synthetic phonics at the heart of teaching reading in the reception class and the early years of primary school.

"This is a welcome reform following overwhelming evidence that synthetic phonics is the most effective method of teaching children to read following the clear conclusions of the Rose review into the teaching of reading."

But Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman Sarah Teather said: "Memorising their times tables a year earlier is not going to help in the long run if there aren't enough qualified maths teachers when pupils move up into secondary school."

The director of human resources policy at the employers' organisation, the CBI, Susan Anderson, said: "We welcome the emphasis in primary schools on mental arithmetic and using maths to solve practical, everyday problems.

"But this must continue into secondary schools to ensure young people have these essential numeracy skills when they leave school for the workplace."

The CBI welcomes the new numeracy targets

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24 Aug 06 |  Education
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20 Mar 06 |  Education
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