The minister responsible for a new times tables check for primary school children refused to answer a multiplication sum on TV today.
Nick Gibb was asked by Good Morning Britain presenter Jeremy Kyle what the answer is to eight times nine.
But the School Standards Minister did not answer, instead telling Kyle and fellow present Kate Garraway: “I’m not going to get into this, I’ve learnt through bitter experience never to answer these kinds of questions on live television.”
He added: “I’m very tempted to, but I’m not going to.”
Garraway told Mr Gibb he was a “very successful person, who clearly can add up and do maths”, adding: “Why is it so important for an eight-year-old to do it when clearly you feel vulnerable about it, and there you are, a Government minister?”
The minister responded: “No eight-year-old or nine-year-old will be doing it on live television.”
Mr Gibb was on the programme to talk about the Government’s new times table check for eight and nine-year-olds, which will be trialled by thousands of youngsters this spring.
Ministers confirmed plans to bring in the multiplication check - which will be taken by eight and nine-year-olds in England - last autumn, following a review of primary school assessment.
The Department for Education (DfE) has now said it will trial the test this spring, ahead of a full roll-out over the next two years.
While supporters have argued that the check will help to ensure that all children know their tables up to 12 off by heart, the move has been controversial, with opponents, including some teaching unions, raising concerns about the educational benefits.
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) described the move as “hugely disappointing”.
It is understood that around 290 primaries in England, around 7,250 pupils, are expected to take part in the trials.
Two trials have already taken place.
Schools across the country can take part in the multiplication check voluntarily in June next year, and it will be compulsory from 2020.
The test will last a maximum of five minutes and allow teachers to monitor a child’s progress, the DfE said.
Mr Gibb has said: “Just as the phonics screening check helps children who are learning to read, the multiplication tables check will help teachers identify those pupils who require extra support.
“This will ensure that all pupils leave primary school knowing their times tables off by heart and able to start secondary school with a secure grasp of the fundamental mathematics they need to fulfil their potential.”
The moved faced criticism from the head teachers’ union the NAHT, however.
Nick Brook, the union’s deputy general secretary, said the tests “won’t tell teachers and parents anything they don’t already know about their children”.
“We’re working constructively with the Government on primary assessment generally so it’s hugely disappointing that they are still intent on the introduction of a multiplication tables test, which NAHT opposes,” he said.
“Although school results won’t be published, this Government test will be scrutinised by Ofsted when they visit and therefore become even more significant. A pupil’s primary school years are already cluttered with tests and checks. We all want children to succeed at school, but the answer isn’t to test them more.”