Academics raise concerns at calculator ban for SATs

Oxford University’s Prof Terezinha Nunes

Oxford University’s Prof Terezinha Nunes

First published in News Oxford Mail: Photograph of the Author by , Education Reporter, also covering West Oxford. Call me on (01865) 425437

TEACHERS and academics have raised concerns about the impact of banning calculators in primary school tests.

Children in Year 6 have this week been sitting their National Curriculum SATs tests and for the first time under Government changes they cannot use calculators in the maths exams.

Ministers believe pupils are becoming too reliant on calculators, saying pupils should know their times tables and be able to add, subtract and divide before learning to use calculators.

But others have warned that the ruling could have a big impact on results.

Teacher April Warren, whose Year 6 pupils at Larkrise Primary School in East Oxford, were due to take the maths test yesterday, said it was difficult to know the impact the ban would have.

She said earlier: “What will have an impact is whether the test paper reflects not being able to use a calculator.

“We won’t know for definite how that has gone until we open the papers. If the tests are still set at the level that they were last year then it could have a big impact on results.”

Experts at Oxford University have argued children would lose vital skills and it will be detrimental to their learning.

Professor of Educational Studies Terezinha Nunes said calculators helped children develop mathematical reasoning.

She said: “There is a balance between assessing computation skills and reasoning.

“But if you take away the possibility of calculators, either you are going to not focus at all on reasoning and just thinking about how to do the sums correctly, or demand less on reasoning skills and so spend time calculating.”

Oxfordshire County councillor and education expert John Howson agreed that it could have an effect on results.

He said: “We won’t know what effect it will have until we get the results. I can see both sides.”

But he added: “Asking children to not use them does seem a bit like a step back.”

“It’s like going back to logorithms instead of using a computer. If the technology is there it should be a skill they should learn.”

Anne Watson, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics Education at Oxford University, said: “There is a substantial amount of good evidence on calculators in schools, mainly from the US, and none of it shows their use is detrimental to pupils’ learning.

“In fact, students who use calculators regularly in lessons score as high or higher in tests, taken without calculators, compared to those who do not.”

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