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A-level calculators to be dumbed down

The Government is set to order 100,000 "dumbed-down" calculators specially designed to restrict the amount of help they can give A-level maths candidates.

New rules drawn up to safeguard exam standards mean that sixth-formers taking A-level maths in 2002 will only be allowed to use officially-approved basic calculators for some papers.

"Computers, graphic calculators, and calculators with computer algebra functions" are all excluded, say the rules.

Once a calculator specification has been agreed with the exam boards, the Government's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority may invite tenders from manufacturers for a bulk order of the machines.

Such a contract could prove lucrative, with the QCA's Richard Browne suggesting an initial production run of 100,000 and annual runs of around 50,000 thereafter. The expectation is that a bulk order will reduce the cost of the calculators to schools and students - perhaps to as little as pound;2-pound;3 each.

The changes are the result of the introduction, from September 2000, of modular A and AS-level courses. New assessment rules mean a quarter of students' final grades must be awarded on the basis of core papers taken with the aid only of a basic scientific calculator.

Mr Browne, the QCA's principal maths subject officer, said: "A simple calculator to our specification is what we think would meet the requirements. At the moment our rules don't exclude any calculator from any exam."

The move to a "limited calculator paper" is seen as a compromise between government demands for a calculator-free paper, and concern in the wider maths community about the appropriateness of such a paper at advanced level.

The QCA is setting up a committee with the examining bodies to look into exam costs, and the calculator issue will be a key task.

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