THE COUNTRY'S 11-year-olds' mental arithmetic may be improving, but they still need lessons in how to use pocket calculators.
Analysis of this year's maths test papers shows that even where primary pupils were allowed to use calculators, in paper B, they often failed to do so.
Anita Straker, director of the national numeracy strategy, told a London conference this week that teachers need to do more work with primary pupils on how to use calculators effectively, particularly for time-consuming sums.
Schools are currently advised not to allow children to use calculators for number crunching before the age of eight.
But Ms Straker said children should be taught how to use a calculator for questions which are too difficult to be reasonably done without. Schools probably need to focus more on teaching the basic skills of calculator use.
At the conference on assessment, jointly sponsored by the National Foundation for Educational Research and publishers NFER Nelson, she said: "Teachers need to show children how to enter the numbers and interpret the display. More work is probably also required on using calculators for calculations involving time and money."
Other weaknesses that can be detected from test results are 11-year-olds' ability to add and subtract two digit numbers; conversion of metric units; and the estimation of results of calculation.
Written answers showed pupils' lack of confidence in solving equations and calculating percentages, and their ignorance of words such as perimeter, pentagon and parallel.
Maths results for 11-year-olds show a striking 10 percentage points improvement in the proportion reaching the required level, despite the fact that schools were only required to teach the national numeracy strategy from this September. About 70 per cent of schools introduced a daily maths lesson a year ahead of schedule. About two-thirds of 11-year-olds reached level four. The Government's target for 2001 is 75 per cent.