UK Primary schools to ban calculators because children have become too ‘dependent’ on them

Channels Television  
Updated November 9, 2012

The use of calculators will be banned in primary school exams and severely restricted in lessons because children in the United Kingdom have become ‘dependent’ on them, ministers announced today.

English pupils are among the heaviest users of calculators in the world because current rules allow schools to introduce them freely from the age of seven.

Under a crackdown unveiled by Education Minister Liz Truss, schools will be told to avoid introducing calculators until the final year of primary school, when most children are 10.

Pupils will also be barred from using calculators in national tests for 11-year-olds.

Currently they are able to use the devices to answer straightforward test questions such as 911 – 447.

Announcing the change, Mrs Truss called for an end to the habit of ‘simply reaching for the calculator’ to work out basic sums.

She warned that children’s ‘dependence’ on calculators for basic maths was preventing them from gaining a true mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.

She said that international studies showed how 98 per cent of 10-year-olds in England were allowed to use calculators in maths lessons – far higher than the global average of 46 per cent.

Countries where calculators were banned in primary-level tests were outstripping England in national rankings.

Banned: Pupils will also not be allowed to use calculators in national tests for 11-year-olds

Banned: Pupils will also not be allowed to use calculators in national tests for 11-year-olds

Our 15-year-olds slumped to 27th place in an international league table of maths performance in 2009.

‘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,’ said Mrs Truss.

‘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.

‘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.

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

‘Children will have a solid grounding in the basics so they can grow up to be comfortable with the maths they will need in their adult lives.’

The current maths curriculum for primary schools suggests introducing calculators at age seven.

The Government’s proposed new blueprint, due to be introduced from 2014, says that calculators should only be introduced ‘near the end’ of the primary years.

In practice, for most pupils, this will be their final year – year six.

The rules will also stipulate that pupils should only be allowed to use calculators if they are ‘secure in written and mental arithmetic’.

Children could then use calculators to ‘explore more complex problems’ such as converting a simple fraction to a decimal fraction, for example 3 divided by 8.

In a further move, pupils will be banned from using calculators in national tests for 11-year-olds from 2014.

They are currently able to use them in one of two written maths tests; there is also a short mental arithmetic test.

Mrs Truss said the change would bring England into line with countries at the top of international league tables for maths performance such as Massachusetts, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Welcoming the announcement, Greg Wallace, executive principal of the Best Start Federation, a group of primary schools in north London, said: ‘We have to ensure all children can perform calculations using efficient written methods.

‘Children need to develop fluency with these concrete methods so that they can perform pencil and paper calculations with ease.

‘Removing the calculator from the papers will increase the focus on developing children’s fluency in the written number operations.

‘Nobody is saying that calculators do not have many benefits; nor are calculators being banned from primary schools. Instead, a clear signal is being given to increase the focus on ensuring every child can successfully perform the relevant written methods for the core number operations.’