Monthly Archives: November 2012

Caroline Wright, BESA and the House of Lords

Caroline Wright of BESA
Caroline Wright of BESA

Tonight I am meeting Caroline Wright face to face. I interviewed her for Merlin John Online 
We have emailed and talked on the phone so much that I feel as if I know her quite well but in fact we met just once – very briefly – at the farewell do for Ray Barker.

Caroline is not the new Ray. Nor is she a replacement. One thing I have learnt is that as the new director at BESA Caroline will put her own stamp on the organisation. She has a formidable pedigree with extensive overseas experience which will be of great benefit to the UK software community but she also has great charm

Most importantly she has a very clear set of values: ‘Education matters and is always likely to be featured in the first few pages of a newspaper because it is relevant to most of the population. We have all had an education and we nearly all know someone who is having one now. The role as a director at BESA ticks every box for me. I love education and this job lets me be part of a team and puts me back at the heart of strategy and delivery.’

Tonught I shall enjoy being BESA’s guest at their annual House of Lords reception.

Banning calculators is not the answer!

Education and Childcare Minister Elizabeth Truss has announced that calculators will be banned in maths tests for 11-year-olds from 2014. She claims that children are over-reliant on calculators and miss the rigorous grounding in mental and written arithmetic, “By banning calculators in the maths test, we will reduce the dependency on them in the classroom for the most basic sums.”

There are so many reasons why children should be allowed to use calculators. They let pupils explore data, spot patterns and number crunch fast and accurately. They help pupils develop a sense of what is a plausible answer. If left to their own devices, many children, especially those with dyscalculia, will struggle to do 3 or 4 questions. With a calculator they can do a whole page and start to build a feeling for what is a sensible answer. Calculators can be used to check answers too so pupils who have done a calculation in their head or on paper can try a bit of self-checking and become more independent learners.

Pupils need to learn estimating skills and a problem solving approach. These are the foundation of mathematical thinking whereas the four rules are numeracy. Interestingly, Ms Truss talks about ‘sums’ which immediately shows her ignorance. Sum only covers addition and I doubt that children are just adding up day after day.

Years ago I was asked to run a class on using calculators in an FE college because children were leaving school without this skill and employers, especially in the building trade, needed young people who were confident users of this very basic piece of technology. Similarly there have been a number of Trade Union courses on using a calculator to work out percentage increases, members’ pensions and other benefits. I wonder if the government does all its calculations on paper? Maybe this is why so many of their statistics are so suspect.

Financial expert Martin Lewis, creator of  has said, ‘We’re a financially illiterate nation with a massive personal debt problem, about to treble student loans.’

So when we are faced with large scale poverty and unprecedented levels of debt, the government suggests we should stop young people being ‘over-reliant on calculators.’  They have to be joking!