Calculator ban causes further dismay

21st March 1997 at 00:00
The official calculator ban on A-level mathematics students has been extended to cover the further maths A-level, a more sophisticated exam taken by the brightest university candidates.

It has also emerged that the restriction could prove even more draconian than the Government intends. It is likely to affect one-third of the A-level marks, rather than a quarter as the rules state, because of the way all new maths courses will be structured .

Education Secretary Gillian Shephard approved the calculator ban earlier this year in response to concern about pupils' poor standards of mental arithmetic and concern that A-level maths has become easier to pass. Now the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has confirmed it will press ahead with a restriction on calculators in further maths as well - a move attacked by some maths educators.

"It is exceedingly stupid," said Professor Margaret Brown from King's College, London. "It's not even been discussed by the maths committee at the SCAA. Surely students can add and subtract by the time they get to further maths?" Roger Porkess, project director with the MEI syllabus group, said that banning calculators would also remove important applied mathematical problems - the sort addressed by engineers in particular.

George Turnbull, a spokesman from the Southern Examining Group, said: "Our assessment is that people doing further maths have no need to demonstrate that they can work without calculators."

Colin Goldsmith, a chief maths examiner with the Oxford and Cambridge Examinations and Assessment Council, said that the restriction is likely to be counterproductive. Because exams will come in six modules or sections from 2000, the exam boards will either have to split up the six short exams into even shorter papers (placing candidates under extreme time pressure) or, more probably, declare two whole modules (33 per cent of the marks) to be calculator-free.

The result, he said, would be to "distort" some topics as they are twisted to make them either calculator-friendly or calculator-free.

A spokesperson for the School Curriculum and Assessment Auth-ority said: "The calculator requirement is part of the maths core and therefore applies to further maths. The same rules apply to both."

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