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Calculator 'ban' denounced

ADVISERS appointed to raise standards in primary school mathematics have denounced the Government's press machine, which they accuse of misleading schools and distorting their views on calculators.

The Department for Education and Employment claimed that calculators would be barred from primary classrooms when it launched the National Numeracy Strategy earlier this month.

The claim, apparently designed to please traditionalist commentators, dominated media coverage before and after the launch.

In fact, the numeracy strategy contains no ban on calculators and goes so far as to say they are "an effective tool for learning".

The group will be sending letters to primary schools in the autumn, clarifying the position.

Two eminent members of the task force which devised the national strategy have complained to the Education and Employment Secretary, David Blunkett.

Professor Margaret Brown from King's College London, told The TES: "I imagine they think they're appealing to the voting public. But I can't believe the voting public wants important messages to be distorted.

"I am furious. I can't believe the press release. It was demeaning to teachers and pupils."

Another task force member Professor Chris Robson, from Leeds University, said: "I've written to Michael Barber to register my disquiet. It was very unfortunate."

Margaret Dawes, a partner with consultants KPMG on the group, is also concerned: "It was one of the topics we discussed thoroughly and the view we came to was clearly expressed in the report. I do not think that the press release expressed the philosophy of the report. Children should learn how to do mental arithmetic. They should also learn to use calculators properly."

A task force member who didn't wish to be named said: "The concern about calculators has been hyped up out of all proportion. In fact you can't ban anything from primary schools without legislation."

The chairman of the group, Professor David Reynolds, from Newcastle University, conceded there was some misunderstanding. "It's a great pity that there were mixed messages about calculators at the time of the launch," he said. "I'm confident that any confusion will be removed next term."

The numeracy strategy, to be implemented from the autumn of 1999, actually says: "There is no place in primary school mathematics lessons for using calculators as a prop for simple arithmetic. Used well, however (they) can be an effective tool for learning about numbers and the number system."

The strategy suggests that their use be limited. But the final decision rests with schools.

This was translated by the Government's press office to a ban on calculators for all children aged eight and under, plus strict limits on their use for older children.

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