Tables turn on children's calculator culture

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The Independent Online
Labour wants to ban calculators for children under the age of eight, David Blunkett said yesterday.

He said a new numeracy taskforce to be set up under Professor David Reynolds, of Newcastle upon Tyne University, would make a final decision about the right age for children to be introduced to calculators.

In comments which echoed many concerns usually voiced by traditionalists, he said: "Mental arithmetic is a key skill which children must learn. They must also understand the basis on which the calculations are being made.

"Calculators should not be introduced until later in primary schools than is often the case at present. So that once the foundations of mental arithmetic are already in place, they can master how to use them more effectively.

"Numerate pupils must know how to use calculators sensibly and must be able to make a decision about when to use a calculator. We must ensure that no child is totally reliant on a calculator."

Children needed to learn their tables by heart and how to add and subtract quickly without putting pen to paper, he said.

Most countries introduce calculators into schools at a later stage than Britain.

Mr Blunkett said Labour would introduce new numeracy targets for 11-year- olds. Three-quarters would be expected to achieve the expected standard within five years and 90 per cent by the year 2007. The present figure is 55 per cent.

In the Third International Maths and Science Study published last year, British 13-year-olds did worse in maths than pupils from about half the 40 countries which took part.

Mr Blunkett said: "Whilst we cannot import practice wholesale from abroad, we must cherry pick the best methods and tailor them to fit our culture, our system and what parents, teachers and pupils find works best. The taskforce will be reviewing all the research evidence.

"We must learn from Taiwan and the Pacific Rim countries and their success in teaching children the habits of mind which can lead to future educational success."

He had been impressed, he said, by a project in the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham in which there is whole-class maths teaching involving question and answer sessions with the teacher.

Gillian Shephard, the Secretary of State for Education said: "Labour can't add up. David Blunkett has said he intends to set up a numeracy taskforce so he has obviously failed to count the 25 literacy and numeracy centres we have established throughout the country to spread best practice."

The Prime Minister had said he intended to set national targets for all stages of the curriculum, she added.