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Public Sector
Department for Education
Multiplication Tables Check

Helping the Department for Education ensure pupils learn their times tables

Children with computers

The Department of Education (DfE) was delivering on a government manifesto commitment for ‘all children to know their times tables by the time they leave primary school’: an onscreen Multiplication Tables Check (MTC) to assess pupils’ ability to fluently recall their multiplication tables would be administered to Year 4 pupils in Key Stage 2.


The DfE’s Standards and Testing Agency (STA) tasked Olive Jar with building and running MTC, helping schools identify pupils that may require additional support. 

MTC was required to meet varying user needs, including pupils, teachers, service managers, test developers, helpdesk call agents and statisticians. It would directly serve approximately 750,000 Year 4 pupils, across 16,000 primary schools, each with 2-3 administrative users. 


We built and managed MTC from Discovery to Live. We utilised Agile Scrum as our delivery methodology in Discovery and Alpha, switching to Agile Kanban during Beta, using a multidisciplinary Agile team.   


We captured user needs and user journeys through qualitative and quantitative user research, interviewing all user types, running focus groups, validating evidence through surveys, then grouping and prioritising these, brainstorming multiple potential solutions to meet each. We built prototypes and shared/tested them with users for feedback. We iterated these designs, testing and building as we went along, always ensuring that the result was what the users needed.    


We manage development, staging, and production environments in Azure, including configuration, monitoring, and deployments. We use Azure DevOps to facilitate Continuous Integration / Continuous Delivery to all environments, using industry-standard blue/green deployment strategies.   

We worked with DfE’s Technical Design Authority and Enterprise Architects to ensure the most suitable products for each solution were chosen. This chosen stack has enabled us to deliver cost-effective, scalable solutions that cope with high traffic on demand.   


We have leveraged browser functionality, preventing common mistakes that would distract or potentially spoil the check for pupils. Every user interaction is recorded and submitted to the database, providing STA psychometricians with detailed stories of each pupil’s experience and accurate timing information reflecting the difficulty of the check, informing key stakeholder decisions. This data provides an understanding of other elements, e.g. individual question timings, other keys pressed, mouse movement, devices used and submission issues. This has been trialled and helped us to iterate the service, providing a robust solution. 


Accessibility is a key aspect of MTC: our team has utilised modern browser features, enabling pupils with additional needs to customise the application, e.g. enabling speech synthesis to read out questions. Our MTC landing page allows contrast and font size customisation to assist users with visual impairments. 

Image by Glenn Carstens-Peters

Following a successful national voluntary pilot in which approximately two-thirds of the pupil population participated (400,000 pupils and c10,000 schools), MTC has been rolled out nationally, currently serving over 750,000 pupils and 50,000 school admin users per annum. It is accessible to all user types, aligns to all GDS Standards and meets all its user needs.

MTC is in the cloud, is secure, scalable, resilient and cost-effective. It is also easy to maintain as all code is open source and uses the latest technologies. 

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