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Calculators to be banned in primary school maths tests

9 November 2012
Calculators to be banned in primary school maths tests
Calculators to be banned in primary school maths tests

Calculators will be banned from primary school maths tests for 11-year-olds in England from 2014, it was announced.

The change follows the publication in June of a draft primary school curriculum which recommended that children should not use calculators until the later years of school.

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss said children were using calculators "too much too soon at primary school" and as a result, were not getting the rigorous grounding in mental and written arithmetic they needed to progress in maths.

Calculators should only be introduced after pupils had mastered the basics, such as knowing their times tables off by heart and understanding the different methods to add, subtract, multiply and divide, she said.

Eleven-year-olds in England take their Sats exams in the final year of primary school, in year six. Pupils are allowed to use a calculator for one of the two written maths papers, and also have to sit a short mental arithmetic test.

Ms Truss said: "Maths influences all spheres of our daily lives, from working out the change from your shopping to an architect’s calculations in designing the latest London skyscraper.

"The irony is that while maths is all around us, it seems to have become acceptable to be ‘bad with numbers’.

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

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

Research by King’s College London showed that the number of 11- to 14-year-olds with a poor grasp of basic calculation had more than doubled over the last 30 years.

Professor Celia Hoyles, director of the National Centre for the 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."

However, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers told the BBC that children should have a "range of tools" at their disposal to use to solve maths problems.

She said: "It may not be appropriate to use calculators for the whole of the maths 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."

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