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 222.

    It is necessary to gain an understanding of the principles underlying the functioning of numbers and to see clearly what is happening when they are manipulated. Learning styles are important for individual differences in learning, not rote.

    Calculators seem neither to detract nor add to an already gained understanding of concepts, so why does it make sense to ban them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    @200. I have a maths degree (1975), and two As at Alevel maths. I didn't formally learn tables because I was educated in the USA until age 7. I finally mastered 9x5=45 (not 40!) while at uni.

    Maths is a huge subject, and arithmetic is only a small (though important) part of it, even at primary school. We need to test arithmetic 'by hand', but if a calculator helps with the rest of maths...

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    Unfortunately it's because of misguided people like Christine Blower that we have this problem in the first place. Calculators should never have been introduced at primary school level. It's totally unnecessary. Teachers should be concentrating on helping kids consolidate their basic mathematical understanding and improving their mental arithmetic skills. Save calculator use for later...

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    This isn't about knowing or not knowing mental arithmetic.

    It's about grading people on how quickly they can do mental arithmetic due to a test with a time limit which is stupid, because doing mental arithmetic fast does not equate to strong mathematical problem solving.

    Someone graded D in math for mental arithmetic could well be an A* candidate at doing actual real world math with a calculator

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    192 david h, dont quite get where you are coming from,i have never said that calcs shouldn't be used, what i have said in my posts is that kids should be able to u@stand the principles & workings and be able to explain them,basic education at the end of the day,i do use calcs for some stuff,i'm no einstein,i can one,you come across as tech dependant,a reason why the uk is so far behind maybe?

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    @news_monitor, I also have an A* at Maths and A at Further Maths when I did my A Levels and I know my tables. Its a matter of how you were taught maths. I studied mostly in Singapore before I came here and did my A Levels and there they placed a lot of emphasis on mental maths etc and didn't allow you to touch a calculator till you entered secondary school. I did well at exams as a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 216.

    Well done Ms TRuss and shame on you Christine Blower. this was long overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 215.

    189.Chorley Lass
    20 Minutes ago
    locked away in sealed rooms nursed by men in white coats,
    I remember being told that they were wonderful provided you remembered GINGO:
    G arbage IN
    G arbage O ut
    And that is why calculators, and spell checkers are no good, until the basics are understood.
    men,, white coats,, sealed rooms

    It's "GIGO"

  • rate this

    Comment number 214.

    Thank goodness light is dawning. Kids don't get the arithmetic practice they need if they can use a calculator instead. The calculator in primary school is a handicap.
    I have taught maths both at primary & secondary level, worked in outside industry and am a parent yet I have almost never used a calculator & don't possess one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 213.

    There is a time and a place to use calculators. The time to use them is once you have completely mastered the mathematical concepts of the calculations you're using the machine to do. The place is secondary school - once you've moved on to more advanced mathematical concepts. It doesn't really take that long to become familiar with a calculator and learn how to use one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    Some people are simply slower at mental arithmetic, I'm one of those people and couldn't complete an exam in the usual time given as a result of doing calculations manually.

    Despite this I have a degree in pure math, and am currently studying for another focussing on stats. I also have real world expertise of writing software to solve complex COPs.

    Math is about problem solving. It's not a race.

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    Calculators are not used for tests in numeracy except where it is part of the test which uses calculators ie a separate test test paper.
    I think schools got this subject sorted out some time ago but here is another person wanting some headline time saying what is already delivered.

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    In hospital recently, based on the dosage the nurse wrote down, and the instructions the doctor then gave me, I instinctively knew that somebody had got their maths wrong. It turned out the nurse was right, and the doctor had just told me to heavily overdose my 15 month old daughter three times a day for five days. Without mental arithmetic, I would have simply trusted the doctor and done so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    not sure I agree with the test, but if a school pupil wanted a career in science or engineering or something that requires a Maths A-level, it is a LOT easier to obtain if they know how the basic calculations work- I really struggled at this subject, and while I don't blame calculators I wish someone had explained how important it was when I was a kid

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    I am trying to calculate the benefit of such a move.. be right back just getting some batteries..

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    It seems the older generation are more opinionated on this one.

    We never did much mental arithmetic at school and to be honest it doesn't make any difference in my day to day life.

    I do computer programming which involves doing more arithmetic than a lot of jobs but I don't have any problems. If something's too complex there's a calculator on my phone or laptop.

    A bit of a non-issue imo

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    Calculator skills are essential these days - but so are basic arithmetic. Do you really want to rely on a calculator just to add up your shopping before taking to the till, for instance?
    Then there's more complicated maths - without a basic arithmetic understanding, it will be MUCH more difficult to spot errors made. It is necessary to have both skills - mental and mechanical - for complex maths.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    The very last time I went into a Woolworths, just before they went bust, I bought three items at 99p each. I had exactly £2.97 ready. The girl at the till asked me "How did you do that?"

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    I never used a calculator to do any maths questions till I was 12 and entered secondary schools and because of that my mental arthimetic is excellent. I agree with this step and it would be good especially later on when these kids are doing Mathematics A Levels. There's an entire module in it which is non-calculator and while I saw people struggling with it, I aced it and got full marks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Here we Gove again, wasn't used in the tory toffs educations so shouldn't be used now! Pity they didn't learn then, because they are obviously not using them now and running the countries finances on 2+2=7 style maths!
    My Maths GCSE had one test with a calc, one without. What is so wrong with that, 2 elements, both tested. Simple.


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