Primal Scream therapy helps children learn tables

No one could deny that life at Hurst Lodge, an independent school in the heart of the Berkshire countryside, is poles apart from the world inhabited by bands like Primal Scream and Napalm Death.

However, girls at the school in Sunningdale - which has fees of up to £17,000 a year - do have something in common with the rock group and extreme metal band. They have the same record producer.

Andrew Holdsworth, a music teacher at the school who trained as a sound engineer and then moved into production, cut his teeth on producing tracks by the two groups. He has also been involved in more classical material featuring the tenor Luciano Pavarotti and violinist Nigel Kennedy.

His latest effort, though, is a CD featuring 12 tracks recorded by girls at the school which could play a key role in a government drive to improve the teaching of times tables in primary school maths lessons.

Mr Holdsworth, who works at the school two days a week and maintains contacts with the music industry, hit upon the idea when teachers complained that most of the material to help them teach times tables was boring. "I can remember from my own time at school - there was this woman on the piano who used to just sing five ones are five, five twos are 10," he said. "Not very inspiring."

He wrote lyrics for each of the times tables that pupils can sing along to and created a character called Percy Parker, an ex-teacher with a backing group who leads the chanting, played by Paul Murphy.

Each song takes a different theme. For instance, the four times table is about a herd of cows and how many feet they have. The five times table focuses on fingers and toes.

Mr Holdsworth's CD, which can be heard and ordered online, coincides with a major shake-up in the way primary schools teach maths. Worried by the fact that standards seem to have stagnated (the percentage of pupils reaching the required standard in tests for 11-year-olds remained stubbornly the same at 76 per cent this year), government education advisers have decreed that children should learn their times tables by the age of eight - rather than nine as at present.

The idea is that this would give them more time to grapple with harder maths problems by the time they take their tests. As a result, many schools will be looking at ways to speed up the learning of times tables.

This is where Mr Holdsworth's CD comes in and, if the experiment at Hurst Lodge is anything to go by, it could work.

Teachers have noticed a marked improvement in pupils' mastery of the times tables since the CD was introduced at the start of this term.