Why stop at twelve?


There is an election coming in Britain and so politicians are setting out their stalls.

Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has now said that her priority will be a “war on innumeracy” and an insistence that children who leave primary schools should know their “twelve times tables”.

But why 12? Until 1971 British (and Irish) coinage was divided into shillings of 12 pence (and 20 shillings made a pound). Then twelve times tables were of a practical use – and naturally enough that carried on for some time afterwards (I was taught my “times tables” in P3 in 1972/73 and 12 was very much part of the programme).

Latterly though, as I understand it, teaching has concentrated on 1 – 10 for what ought to be obvious reasons. So going back to 12 is plainly nothing more than a conservative politician’s attempt to appeal to nostalgic and reactionary notions that the world was better in the past and everything has gone downhill.

I can see no reason at all why learning 11 and 12 times tables actually improves mathematical understanding, as opposed to gaining an additional, but of limited use, practical skill. And if the idea is to be in the “top 5 for maths” then I’d suggest increasing children’s understanding of maths matters a bit more than their ability to know from memory what 11 x 12 is.

Of course, before someone objects, knowing your 12 times tables is useful: but then so is knowing the 13 times tables or the 60 times tables – so why stop at 12?

Indeed, in this age, if we are going to stop at somewhere above 10, shouldn’t it be a power of 2? Knowing the 16 times tables would be a big advantage for any would-be programmer.

It’s a slightly ridiculous idea to demand that our children are taught the 16 times tables, but no more or less than the 12 times tables – so I am putting it out there!


4 responses to “Why stop at twelve?”

  1. One might argue that the 12s table is useful when buying items by the dozen (not uncommon here in the States). One might argue to extend to the 14s table in the UK, in case you need to schedule something in multiples of a fortnight. 🙂

  2. Are fortnights a British thing then? Never knew that!

    1. Well, they only crop up here on TV shows imported from England (and then only once every fortnight or so).

  3. And, of course, 12 inches to the foot!

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