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Volume 554: debated on Monday 3 December 2012

We treat maths as a very high priority and are working to attract the best graduates into mathematics teaching through bursaries of up to £20,000. From 2014, we will remove calculators from primary tests to ensure that pupils master the basics, and we are reforming the national curriculum to focus on core arithmetic, which is key to so much future success in employment.

With that in mind, what steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that children have a good basic grasp of mental arithmetic before they are able to rely on calculators?

At present, the evidence suggests that 10-year-olds in England are more likely to use calculators than those in virtually any other country in the world, and we are 28th in the world league tables for maths. It is important that children understand and are fluent in multiplication, division, addition and subtraction before they use calculators. That is why we are removing calculators from the primary tests, in line with high-performing countries such as Hong Kong and jurisdictions such as Massachusetts.

A dozen or so years ago, Lord Moser concluded in his report that more than 50% of people in Britain were innumerate and illustrated that by saying that 50% of the population do not understand what 50% means. Recently I attended a National Numeracy reception and spoke to Lord Moser again, and others, and the problem still exists. Are the Government able to put their finger on precisely what has gone wrong and is the Minister doing enough to put it right?

One of the issues we have identified is too early a reliance on calculators in some classrooms. There is also an over-focus on data in the primary curriculum at the expense of arithmetic and number, which are the basis of a strong mathematical understanding later in life. We are readjusting the balance to make sure that those core basics are secure first.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the formation of National Numeracy, which is a fantastic new organisation? It has expressed concern about the new maths curriculum for primary schools and says that there is too much

“rote learning and not enough emphasis on problem solving and using maths in real-life contexts.”

I agree with the Minister that numeracy is vital, but I fear that this may be a lost opportunity to improve maths education in primary schools. Will she work with National Numeracy and teachers to develop a maths curriculum that will really make a difference?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman visit Woodberry Down primary school in Hackney, which has already adopted the new national curriculum that we have suggested, including more advanced fractions, multiplication and division. I have seen the inspirational teaching at that school and the excitement on children’s faces as they play games using advanced fractions and grasp that the underlying principles of mathematics will help them for the rest of their lives. That is what our new curriculum does: it allows excellent teachers to inspire the next generation.