Government Bans Calculators for 11-Year-Olds
Elizabeth Truss said children should have to learn the basics of mental arithmetic before being let loose with a calculator (Wiki Commons)

The government has announced plans to ban calculators for English 11-year-olds taking Key Stage 2 exams from 2014.

Education and childcare minister Elizabeth Truss said pupils were using calculators are not getting the mental and written arithmetic skills they need.

Research suggests that English10-year-olds are some of the highest users of calculators in the world, with 98 per cent being allowed to use them in maths lessons.

Truss said calculators should not be introduced to children from a young age and that they should learn basic maths first. At present, they are introduced at seven.

The basics would include knowing their times tables off by heart, and an understanding of the methods of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.

Professor Celia Hoyles OBE, 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."

Current curriculums allow calculators for simple mathematical questions, such as: "Q. Tickets for a school play cost £2.75 each. Dev sold 23 tickets. How much ticket money did Dev collect? A. £63.25

"Q. Holly collected £77 altogether from selling tickets. How many tickets did she sell? A. 28 tickets."

Research by Kings College London showed that the number of 11 to 14-year-olds with a poor grasp of basic maths has doubled in the last 30 years. A survey by the Confederation of British Industry also found that a third of employees are dissatisfied with the numeracy skills of school-leavers.

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. 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."

Students in Hong-Kong, Singapore and Massachusetts, where calculators are already banned, currently outperform pupils in England in maths at the age of 10 and 14.

Greg Wallace, executive principal of the Best Start Federation, a group of London schools, said: "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."

A study by researchers from the University of Chicago recently found that the thought of maths can actually cause pain.