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 62.

    Calculators are apart of modern day life, as are computers, & i phones. Children should be allowed to use them. Why do we always want to turn the clock back, & think not using them is better. Allow them to be used in tests.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Most of what is learnt in school is irrelevant to every day life anyway

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Stand behind an OAP at a supermarket checkout and that will give you a clear idea how Maths was taught "better" sixty years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    For tests of course they should be banned.

    What is the point of having a test otherwise?

    Knowing how to use a calculator is important but should be a different test.

    Why wait until 2014?

    So typical of our useless government that delays everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    45.Knut Largerson "Doing mental Arithmetic...You either learn it by constant repetition, or it's just there if you are savant."

    Absolutely agree. My kids had it drummed into their heads every day at their (very good) primary school (last one left Sept 12).

    Neither reach for a calculator unless really needed.

    Schools can get this right if the Govt will just stop interfering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    No more calculators... it's not the 1980s any more... they are expected to use their iPads now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    41. sunrise

    Teachers are professionals? 90% (that's 9 out of 10, for those without their calc handy) of those I've met are either lazy stoners or driven entirely by the ranking aspirations of their Heads. And did you know they sometimes have to work out of normal work hours??!! Can you imagine the horror? Poor dears.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    It's not just about needing a tool to determine how many beans make 5. Mental arithmetic is good for you, leading to greater mental agility generally, enhancing on the spot problem solving and even delaying the onset of dementia in later life. Our poor children, destined to be obese, passive, ignorant slobs, let down by a self-serving "educational" (as if) establishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Primary children do not rely on calculators and do not use them regularly. They are taught written and mental methods continually throughout both key stages. Children have to have the basic skills in place before calculators are used for more complicated equations. In my experience, it tends to be children of a higher ability who use calculators rather than those who need their skills developed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    It’s a tough one this – whilst I can understand that it’s important to know how to do this stuff without using a calculator, I cannot for the life of me imagine a time that you would need to use it without having a calculator present if you wished. As such are we testing that pupils can do something they will never need to do, and if so what is the point?

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    There is a definite lack of knowledge of what is actually taught in primary schools here. Basic know of the 4 operations is taught from the beginning of a child's start in school and carries on throughout their time in school. Calculators build on this - later when the children's knowledge is secure. Get into a school and see.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    About time the calculators are banned.

    I think attitude towards math should be changed as well. In Asian countries kids are proud to be good at Maths - that's why they are doing so better than us nowadays.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    ? ? ?

    Why the hell are kids encouraged to use calculators at 11 in a SCHOOL ?

    ? ? ? ?

    Unless of course comment 41 is right and this is more diversionary tat.

    Well done Mr. Schofield ! !

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    Thank you for all the informed comments about the use of a calculator. It makes me happy to know so many commentators refuse to use a calculator. I also feel that pupils should not use a word processing program on a computer as handwritting and spelling are so important. Labour saving devices are the problem with society, TV, washing machunes SATnav, get rid of them all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The NUT saying that the banning of calculators would be a retrograde step shows just how oblivious they are to the number of children leaving school innumerate and illiterate. I recently underwent these tests for a job I applied for. I'm a 50yr old I was told I'd scored 98% and 95% respectively. The employer said that youngsters do great on computers, but not in their heads. That needs attention!

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Following many discussions on this topic, I think the problem must be that few educational professionals are mathematicians. Otherwise they would understand that you have to have good basic mental arithmetic to tackle more complex maths. Calculators should not be used until these skills are learnt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Hooray!!! At last we shall see how abysmal our arithmetic skills have become and all through the interference of left wing politics, stupid civil servants and chronically poor teaching. We should all know our 2 to 12 times tables and be able to add and subtract in our heads.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    Doing mental Arithmetic in your head is a party trick. You either learn it by constant repetition, or it's just there if you are savant.

    It won't help you with Mechanics or Pure Maths, or real world applications.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    "I have an A* in A-level maths and an A in further maths, I do not know my timestables"

    Something is seriously wrong if that is the case. Almost regardless of what you do in later life, times tables will be more useful than partial differentiation, binomial theorems and the like. If you learn them now, you'll find yourself using them all the time.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.


    I've seen people use calculators for the most atrocious of arithmetic problems that quite frankly I'm embarrassed for them that it can't be done mentally.

    I tell my kids that they can use calculators when they can work it out for themselves. If you can do it without the machine, you did achieved something no matter how trivial.


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