Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Calculator ban KS2 Maths Test

Elizabeth Truss, Minister for Education, announced this on 9 November: the use of calculators will not be permitted in the mathematics national test taken at the end of Key Stage 2.

The logic behind this is misguided. Problem-solving, not calculations, is at the heart of mathematics and our assessment of the mathematics curriculum should reward this.

Currently there are three papers in this mathematics assessment: a mental mathematics paper, a non-calculator paper, and a calculator paper. So there are plenty of opportunities to assess mental and written calculation methods in two of the three papers, which is where such questions are concentrated.

The calculator paper makes it possible for the test to assess a broader range of important mathematical processes. In applying mathematics to real-life problems, children learn to identify which calculation is required and how to interpret the result of a calculation and to check the constraints of the real-life context. These steps are as important in problem-solving as the calculation itself.

The minister in criticising the current set-up gave as an example of a calculation for which children currently might be allowed to use a calculator the following: £12.50 multiplied by 7. I really do not believe that 'find £12.50 multiplied by 7' has ever been a question in the calculator paper of the KS2 maths test. It might have been a calculation that would have arisen in the context of a real-life problem and the child would have been required to determine that this this was the calculation that was required.

When the child has done this on a calculator, the result displayed would be 87.5. This has to be interpreted as representing £87.50 in the context of the original problem, whatever it was.

A typical problem might be: Dev earns £12.50 a week doing a paper round and works for 7 weeks. At the end of the 7 weeks, how much more does he need to be able to buy a bike costing £95?

An eleven-year-old who can decide what calculations are required - and if they use a calculator can interpret the results displayed - has done some genuine mathematics! Certainly worth a couple of marks in the KS2 test.

This is a sad day for primary school mathematics and a worrying indication of what lies ahead in the proposed curriculum reform.


  1. I understood the table to be able to apply its conceptsin a more complicated problem. For the specific problem of 125x15 you need to firstmultiply 125 by 5 and then multiply 125 by 1 with a space after the number and then addthe two products to get the final answer. math

  2. This is a very nice article on maths calculator. i like your article.