In schools today, handwriting is more important than ever before. Why? Because the Department of Education (DfE), through the Standards & Testing Agency (2016 teaching assessment exemplification: end of key stage one and key stage two English Writing) and Ofsted is insisting every child masters fluent and legible handwriting before they leave primary school.
That means that children who are unable to write to the required standard for year six (that’s writing in a legible, neat, joined up script), will not be assessed any higher than working towards the expected standard for key stage two. So, for the one in three children (according to Government figures) leaving primary school unable to write to the required standard, they will end up falling behind their peers because they do not meet the expected standard for end of key stage two.
In my experience, that one in three figure is optimistic. When carrying a handwriting assessment in local primary schools, I found that in one sample group of 75 year one pupils only two could write to the accepted standard.
So what’s going on?
Handwriting is a learned skill that is most effectively taught directly by demonstration, explanation and practice. Until recently, the subject had fallen to the bottom of the curriculum priority list resulting in a generation of teachers required to teach handwriting but who haven’t themselves been taught how to teach it. It’s these teachers who are struggling to teach the subject within a packed curriculum that doesn’t allow enough time for handwriting to be taught effectively. Add to that the use of a font that was created 200 years ago for handwriters using a quill and ink and handwriting schemes which teachers struggle to use and you can see why pupils across the UK are struggling to master this fundamental, life-long skill.
The key to teaching handwriting effectively relies on using the right method and handwriting scheme in combination with the learner having the appropriate tools for their ability. The right tools matter because learning to write should never be associated with pain in hands, fingers, wrists, arms or shoulders. Using handwriting implements which have not been developed specifically for those who are learning to write can cause pain and actually do more harm in the long run. For those learners who experience pain when learning to write with the wrong tools, experience shows that they then form a negative association with handwriting as a whole and either find numerous ways to avoid having to write or just simply become badly behaved and disruptive in class. After spending the last five years trying out a vast range, makes and types, of pens and pencils whilst delivering handwriting instruction to hundreds of children, I recommend schools use the BIC® KIDS Evolution™ Triangle Coloured Pencils and the BIC® KIDS Handwriting Graphite Pencils with novice handwriters.
Having made these changes, schools like Down Hall Primary School are now seeing the benefits in less than a term. Take Eli for example. When Eli started at Down Hall, he could write his name, but only in capitals and with a developing pencil grip. The five year-old lacked confidence at times in his writing, becoming frustrated when he was unsure how to attempt to write letters. Now, since following the Start-Bee method, Eli has shown a big improvement in his writing. His control and letter formation are consistently improving and Eli can see how his writing is changing. This is down to the fact that he loves to learn and get things right, that’s why Start-Bee has worked for him. Eli can immediately see if he has got the pattern correct or if he was written his name using the correct formation, this spurs him on to making further improvements. Eight weeks later Eli has grown in confidence and wants to write more and more as a result. He is thrilled with his work when completed and it’s a real joy to see.
Melanie Harwood is Founder and CEO of Start-Bee Ltd.