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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Calculators 'not used enough' in lessons
pupil using worksheet
Use of worksheets is a hindrance, inspectors say
Primary school pupils in England are not making enough use of calculators in maths, inspectors say.

The calculator's main role in mathematics lessons is not as a calculating tool

National Numeracy Strategy, England
They say that "despite its value", the calculator is not a regular feature in the teaching of the daily maths lesson for seven to 11 year olds.

The finding comes four years after teachers were told by the government to get children doing mental arithmetic in a "back to basics" drive.

A head teachers' leader said the new report would add to the confusion in primary schools about when children were supposed to use calculators.

Jotting down

A "national numeracy strategy" for England's primary schools was introduced in September 1999.

The inspectors, from the schools watchdog, Ofsted, said in their report on the teaching of calculation that schools had made "significant progress" since in teaching maths and, in particular, in teaching pupils how to calculate mentally.

But pupils made little use of jottings to show how they have arrived at an answer.

And teachers were said to be relying too much on printed worksheets and commercial schemes, particularly in infant schools, which made the matter worse because there was little room for notes.

Teachers told pupils the importance of estimating an answer before doing a full calculation.

But Ofsted said pupils rarely did it, so they failed to see when they had come up with an unlikely result.


The numeracy strategy was first announced in a blaze of headlines in July 1998 referring to a "ban" on calculators.

This is not what had been recommended by a task force commissioned by ministers to report on the teaching of maths.

A member of the task force went so far as to say the "spin" put on the report was "disgraceful".

The head of the taskforce, Professor David Reynolds, said then that the consensus had been that calculators should not be used as a prop for simple arithmetic or as a substitute for the development of firm mental foundations.


Ofsted's report quotes the numeracy strategy's recommendations:

"... the calculator's main role in mathematics lessons is not as a calculating tool, since children are still developing the mental calculation skills and written methods that they will need throughout their lives."

Ofsted said a mental method of calculation should always be pupils' first strategy and they needed to learn that a calculator did not replace this.

But the report said calculators could be a useful tool to explain certain number concepts, such as fractions, decimals and percentages.


David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said Ofsted and the curriculum overseers, the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA), were sending conflicting messages.

The government needs to bang heads together and get the agencies to co-ordinate their policies

Head teachers' leader David Hart
"It suggests that the right hand doesn't know what the left hand is doing at government level.

"I think the average primary school teacher should be sympathised with in terms of the total confusion that seems to exist.

"This is yet another blatant example of the lack of coordination between government agencies.


"It does seem to me that the QCA doesn't talk to Ofsted and vice versa.

"The government needs to bang heads together and get the agencies to co-ordinate their policies so primary teachers know precisely how they are supposed to balance the different methods of calculation."

A spokesman for the QCA said the national curriculum was very clear - that pupils should be taught to use calculators alongside other techniques.

They provided an important "bridge" to more complex mathematics.

There might be a need to re-emphasise the guidance to teachers, he added.

See also:

13 Mar 02 | Education
More test targets for 11 year olds
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