Government bans calculators from primary maths tests

Child doing sums Ministers say children should be fluent in basic arithmetic before using calculators

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The government says calculators will be banned in maths tests for 11-year-olds in England from 2014.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said pupils should only use them once they were confident in basic mathematical skills.

The move follows a government review of calculator use in primary schools.

Teaching unions responded that fluent use of calculators was essential, with the NUT's Christine Blower calling the ban "a retrograde step".

Ms Truss said an over-reliance on calculators meant children missed the rigorous grounding in mental and written arithmetic they needed to progress.

"All young children should be confident with methods of addition, subtraction, times tables and division before they pick up the calculator to work out more complex sums," she said.

"By banning calculators in the maths test, we will reduce the dependency on them in the classroom for the most basic sums."

Complex problems

She said maths "influences all spheres of our daily lives".

"The irony is that while maths is all around us, it seems to have become acceptable to be 'bad with numbers'," Ms Truss said.

"The habit of simply reaching for the calculator to work things out only serves to worsen that problem."

Prof Celia Hoyles, director of the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics, said: "Children develop greater confidence and success in mathematics if they know a range of methods - for example mental and written calculation alongside quick recall of relevant number facts.

"It is important that calculators are used appropriately, so children do not become dependent on them for arithmetic but at the same time are able to use them as a tool to support their own problem solving."

But teaching unions argued banning calculator use in the tests would risk pupils' ability to use them to tackle more complex mathematical problems.

Christine Blower, general secretary National Union of Teachers, said: "It is entirely appropriate for children in primary school to learn to use a range of tools to solve maths problems and the skill of deciding which tool and method to use for a particular problem is an important one.

"It may not be appropriate to use calculators for the whole of the maths test paper, but it is a retrograde step to ban them completely as it will diminish the skills set for primary pupils and leave them floundering in secondary school".

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "As long as they alter the test design and marking to reflect the changed conditions, it shouldn't be too disturbing. One of the papers is already done without calculators of course.

"It is indeed good to be sure that children can perform routine calculations in their heads, but the advantage of a limited use of calculators is that children can focus on the problem itself. "

Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt union, said: "If the test is a mental arithmetic test, then clearly you wouldn't expect children to have calculators, but the government needs to come clean about what its expectations are for the maths curriculum and what kind of skills it believes young people need in the 21st Century.

"Surely we should be expecting to nurture from an early age skills in young people to master complex mathematical challenges. This should include learning how to use the tools which can support them in that process."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    I think we should have a whip round and buy George Osborne a calculator.

    The poor boy is out of his depth trying to deal with all those numbers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss sounds as though she is completely unaware of when year 6 children use calulators. Only 1 paper of the SATS has a calculator allowed. The skills needed to use them are taught only when children are confident in the basics! Maybe she needs to talk with teacher and not down to them. They are the professionals doing the job everyday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    A few years ago, I was camping with friends. We were ordering a takeaway and it was their sons (12 yrs old) job to add up the dishes to find out the total cost ... it was painful watching how he didn't even know how to set out the sum ... we didn't have a calculator in the campsite but we did have pen and paper .....

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    people on here that say calculators are a must are also the same people who think spell checkers are ok !!! school children shoul be able to read write and do basic maths without the AID of machines. with that in mind you will not have people who can not write a letter or add up a bill if the COMPUTER is down !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Dunno 'bout "simple" stuff like 6 + 9 = ?, but ask a modern kid what 32,47 and 29 is & the answer is "sweet-n-sour king prawn, special fried rice & a pancake roll"

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Get them to play darts. Subtracting random numbers from 501 or 301 will soon have them numerically literate!

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    The point that everyone seems to be missing is that there is a test with a calculator and a test without one. Kids need to know how to use a calculator the same as they need to use computers. Learning how to use a tool doesn't make you totally reliant upon them. We don't dig out the foundations of buildings with our hands do we?

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.


    I'm afraid I disagree. A test for a primary school child doing primary school mathematics doesn't need a section for calculators. Save the calculators for later when it comes time to learn calculus.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    This seems like common sense. All too often I have seen silly things happen when the wrong figure is keyed in to a calculator (or a till - which really makes a finacial difference).

    Basic mental arithmetic, knowing that 5 items at £1.75 each will not come to more than £10, for example, is something people have a real need for. How else can you check your change?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Like the PMs new How to run a Country App a calculator is only a tool to aid knowledge and understanding.

    I am appalled at the poor level of basic arithmetic exhibited in this country especially amongst the young.

    If you want to throw some one on a checkout till just offer them a £5 note + 20p to pay a bill of £2.20. Their head explodes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    We must have a bedrock of skills which do not rely on technology.
    Simple arithmetic is one of those.
    Then by all means introduce calculators later.
    There are many everyday situations, like checking your change or a restaurant bill, when a bit of quick arithmetic helps.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    If you can read, write and do basic maths in your head, then the world's your oyster - can't we please get back to the basics?

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.


    I think I've seen you at the pub using your A4-sized smart phone calculator to determine your share of the tab...

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    If kids can't use calculators then they'll need to be TAUGHT sums, no wonder the NUTs don't like that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Numeracy is being able to work things out in your head; what size of number, where the decimal point is etc. If you can't do this you can't use a calculater properly Yesterday I was offered a calculater to do a simply sum. I declined it as I had already done it correctly. I despair of people using spreadsheets and calculators with no basic understanding of arithmetic. Paper. pencil & brains.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    As ever, government, journalists & comentators all unhelpfully talk of mathematics, when they specifically mean the field of ARITHMETIC.

    Arithmetical fluency is a vital skill no-one should be without, but 99% of adults will have little or no use for any other area of mathematics in their lifetime.

    STOP confusing the 2. Make mathematics optional but arithmetic manditory for all school pupils!

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    What about students who are diagnosed with dyscalculia? Are we going to force these students to struggle without calculators?

    I agree that mental arithmetic is important and 11 year olds are already tested on this, but we should also be teaching how to use calculators appropriately. Balancing the two means that pupils can use a calculator competently, with confidence that their answer is correct.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    When I suggested here that the reliance on calculators in primary schools was immensely damaging to secondary school students ability to tackle maths such as algebra, I was lambasted by the educational professionals. This decision vindicates my view.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Once again we have politicians interfering with the education of our children based on their own ideas rather than educational knowledge. Our children need to be able to do mental arithmetic as well as using a calculator. Any test should include sections for both. I am surprised the they haven't suggested our children should learn to use slide rules as they seem to be stuck in the past.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Assuming that article picture is representative, allowing calculators into exams with basic questions like "6 + 9 = ?" is clearly ridiculous, so I don't know what on earth the NUT is going on about.

    For later exams with more complex questions, calculators are far better than the awful printed log/trig tables used when I was at school, but children must learn how to do basic maths in their heads!


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