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 142.

    I went to a swim pool with my daughter; we needed £1 coins for the lockers. I handed a £5 note to the girl at the counter and said I needed two £1 coins (obviously one for me and one for my daughter). She couldn't cope with the missing amount. She asked about the rest, I said I didn't mind, one £2 and two 50p would be OK. She was still confused. Is this the state of modern mental arithmetic?

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Whilst it is vital that students need to learn to use a calculator correctly (and it's amazing how many Sixth Formers can't!), they also need to learn mental arithmetic skills to properly understand number theory. Mental arithmetic skills are dire amongst some secondary maths students whilst others are very good because they were taught well in primary school.

    So this idea has some merit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Children need to be able to perform basic arithmetical processes - they won't necessarily always have a calculator to hand. And they need to know what a ball-park figure is - reliance on calculators means incresed faith in them, so if the answer that comes out is an order or two of magnitude too big or small it will be rejected not accepted. Garbage ( or errors) in, garbage out.p

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    When I was at primary school we did mental arithmetic which I was completely rubbish at and we didn't have calculators. However, my mother persevered at home and eventually I made sense of the numbers.

    After I had been working for some time I did a job which required calculations to be done with the aid of a calculator. However, my mental arithmetic improved again and is still very good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    I prefer objectivity as opposed to subjectivity - I don't care what people THINK; I care about what empirical data and related studies PROVE.

    There are 17 other countries above us when it comes to maths. Why don't we - shock/horror - have a look to see what they do, take the good bits and adopt it into our own education system?

    Innovation and improvement - the British way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    You need to be able to do at least 'quick and dirty' arithmetic in your head AND be able to use a calculator for precision work. Mental checks are a way of ensuring that your calculation is correct. Fortunately the current system allows for this with some tests done with calculators and some without.

    Fortunately I can do mental arithmetic as I lost my calculator long ago....

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    Seems to be a few questions on my comment. I'm not saying that the abilty to do this in your head isn't important - you need to know that 2+2 isn't 24 because you hit the 2 on the calculator twice obviously. But a calculator is a tool you will always have to hand, so why not have one to check that your mental artimatic is right?

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    Calculators are great however, some idea of what the right answer should be is still essential.

    Over Reliance on electronic devices can produce disastrous consequences in the real World in regards for example to drugs overdoses.

    Get kids to show their working out there is then no problem with them checking the answer via a calulator

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    114. stranger83

    Sat at our desks, sure; but what about in a bar/shop/supermarket/on the train/etc.?

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    102.David H. You cant do much looking at labels then, in many cases they are wrong as I have found out when doing shopping, so I work it out myself as even the shop assistants dont know which is the better price until I show them. They do admit the tags are wrong, so double checking by purchaser is needed. The only thing many know is what benefits to claim & how soon for how many dependants etc

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    I had to learn maths without using a calculator and when there were 12 pence in a shilling, so no sympathy from me :o)

    Adding up in your head is fun, calculators are boring. No contest

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.


    It is people just like you who are responsible for a generation of inumerate people who think that "thinking" and "doing" is what other people do. But most can work out sums if they put a £ sign in front of numbers

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    I know some are saying its a backward step not using technology, but what happens if it breaks? Also the information out is only as good as the information in?

    Just because we have cars doesn't mean we can't walk every now and again

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    I agree, I spent minutes waiting for a cashier to add up two receipts, 4.57 and 3.25, it ended up getting her boss to come with a calculator to add up these simple numbers

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    I think its more a question of how one changes the way this country looks upon Arithmetic & Maths. Unless families at home (more especially parents) learn to embrace using arithmetic & thereafter math; this country will be forever a X-Factor also-ran, with little or no ambition to challenge the emerging economies of the world and of which all have engaged their children in this area of learning.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    One should be able to do mental arithmetic. As my old teacher once told me, 'There are three type of people in this world. Those that can count, and those that can't...'

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    "Government bans calculators from primary maths tests"

    Erm, OK, good.
    I dont know what primary maths would even need a calculator but i may b behind the times

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    At last some common sense. Being able to do mental arithmetic is essential in normal life and also avoids enormous errors of magnitude being made which are prevalent with calculators. Teacher Unions opposing this indicates teachers have grown up under this system and don't have the skills themselves. The standard in the UK young people is appalling thanks to poor so called "progressive" methods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 124.

    Today's youngsters are far, far better equipped to tackle maths using written and mental methods than any generation before them. Teaching is far more appropriate for people with different learning styles - something the older generation (I include myself), who only ever learnt one way of doing anything in maths, seem unable to grasp. There is a place for the calculator, albeit a limited one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 123.

    Bring back the abacus! Bring back quills! Of course conceptual understanding is crucial but we need to prepare children to function when they leave school at 18. The world will be very different from today and they certainly won't be working out calculations using a pencil and paper.


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