Write here, right now! The trouble with handwriting in schools today

In schools today, handwriting is more important than ever before.  Why? because the Department of Education (DfE), through the Standards & Testing Agency’s 2016 teaching assessment exemplification:  end of Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 English Writing and Ofsted, is insisting every child masters fluent and legible handwriting before they leave primary school.

For schools, this means a child’s ability to write or not can make the difference between a school being awarded: ‘Good’, ‘Outstanding’, or even, ‘Requires Improvement’, by OFSTED,

Ofsted is placing greater emphasis on the quality and presentation of handwriting in schools
Ofsted is placing greater emphasis on the quality and presentation of handwriting in schools

For children, who are unable to write to the required standard for Year 6 (that’s writing in a legible, neat, joined up script), this means that they will not be assessed any higher than Key Stage 2.  So, for the one in three children (according to Government figures) leaving primary school unable to write to the required standard, their academic careers will be effectively halted at primary school level because they do not meet the Department of Education’s standards.  In my experience that one in three figure is optimistic.

When carrying out our Start-Bee Handwriting Match Fit Assessment™ in local primary schools, I found in one sample group of 75 Year 1 pupils, that: two pupils were considered emergent handwriters, 33 needed intervention and the remaining 40 were classed as not yet writing ready – that’s being able to form letters but needing help with their entry and exit strokes, letter sizing and placement.  So what’s going on?
Handwriting is a taught skill but teachers aren’t being taught how to teach it
Handwriting is a taught skill but teachers aren’t being taught how to teach it

 

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, like The Leys Primary & Nursery School’s Assistant Head Teacher Davinder Khangura and Bec Wakefield who is the English Subject Leader at Down Hall Primary who are also struggling to teach handwriting effectively within a packed curriculum that doesn’t allow enough time for handwriting to be taught effectively from Year 1 through to Year 6.  Add to that the lack of a standardized method to teach handwriting, plus a font some pupils find hard to write with[1] and it’s easy to understand why handwriting is such a problem subject in schools today.

In my view and those of the teachers I speak to, what is urgently needed is a proven approach that enables any teacher or teaching assistant, whatever their skills in and knowledge of teaching handwriting, to run a handwriting lesson.  A proven approach that uses the right tools and the right method for teaching handwriting that does not require teacher-training or additional lessons being added into the curriculum: one that works seamlessly within the existing framework, quickly and effectively.  My handwriting method, Start-Bee, has been proven to work, which is why, after five years researching, developing and delivering a handwriting teaching method to after-school groups, I have been turning the method into a Handwriting Scheme that can be used in primary schools.  I am currently trialling our Basics Bootcamp Handwriting Intervention Programme in two primary schools.  Both schools have also now started trialling our Start-Bee Handwriting Preparedness Programme (for EYFS) with their Reception pupils.  I hope to launch it at the Education Show in March where, along with the trial school teachers, Bec Wakefield and Davinder Khangura, I’ll be sharing our experiences of teaching handwriting the right (or should that be write?) way in today’s schools.

If you want to hear how the trials got on, come and say hello to me and the teachers involved at the Birmingham NEC’s Education Show.  We’ll be at BIC’s stand F28 (opposite the entrance) on 17th, 18th and 19th March.  In the meantime you can find out more about Start-Bee at www.start-bee.com or by emailing me at info@start-bee.com

[1] The current dependency within schools on Debbie Hepplewhite’s Leading In-Line Font isn’t to every schools’ liking and has been heavily criticized by handwriting experts at the National Handwriting Association (NHA 2016 journal)