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 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 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 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 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?


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