Parents told to do times tables

Labour's unhappy new year: Government tries to turn attention from Cabinet feuds to core domestic issues
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The Independent Online
PARENTS ARE to be told to brush up their times tables so they can help their children to become more numerate as Tony Blair launches an attempt this week to divert attention from Labour Party feuding.

The Government wants parents to recite the tables with their children after school and will suggest families do adding games with groceries in supermarkets.

The drive to raise standards of arithmetic will be launched tomorrow by David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, who will announce a new pounds 55m funding package for primary schools.

It will be the start of a concerted wave of policy announcements aimed at refocusing the Government on its domestic agenda, and drawing a line under the feuds which claimed the heads of Peter Mandelson, Geoffrey Robinson and Charlie Whelan.

Mr Blair, who flew back to London last night after a tour of South Africa and Kuwait, where he visited ground crews involved in the bombing of Iraq, will use a live interview on BBC1's Breakfast with Frost today to make it clear there will be no retreat from the New Labour project.

"He will acknowledge that it has been a difficult couple of weeks and he will say that we are moving forward by focusing on the things that are important," Mr Blair's official spokesman said. "What is vital is that the Government concentrates on the bread-and-butter issues rather than the Westminster village."

Mr Blunkett will announce details of a new "numeracy hour" for schools, in which pupils will focus on mental arithmetic and learning times tables by rote. Teachers are to be given extra training in the new numeracy curriculum, to be introduced in September. Parents will be expected to play a big part.

"Numeracy is a vital skill which every youngster must learn properly," an adviser to Mr Blunkett said. "Yet for perhaps 30 years we haven't followed what we know works. The new daily maths lesson will ensure that children know their times tables, can do sums in their heads and are taught effectively in whole class settings."

Cabinet big-hitters, including John Prescott, are lined up to reinforce the New Labour agenda in the coming weeks. On Tuesday, Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and Mr Blair will visit a London housing estate to highlight new crime prevention measures, including more closed circuit television. Mr Straw will say: "The fight against crime is at the centre of our commitment to making Britain a better place to live."

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