How important is handwriting?

So, just how important is handwriting?

My own handwriting is pretty poor and in fact, I got a stark reminder of this a couple of years ago when I bumped into a teacher who taught me in the first year of infant school and reminded me that the one thing she remembered about me was how scruffy my handwriting was!

Some people would argue that it’s more important for children to get all of their ideas on paper, without worrying about how neat it is.

Some people would argue that in a digital world, it’s better to teach children to touch-type than to write. I’m not sure that I have found a single school that has got handwriting ‘right’ yet.

But, when you look at the criteria for what our children are judged on in primary schools, handwriting is right up there.

The National Curriculum states that by the end of primary school, “Pupils should be taught to:

 – write legibly, fluently and with increasing speed by:

  • choosing which shape of a letter to use when given choices and deciding whether or not to join specific letters
  • choosing the writing implement that is best suited for a task.”

“Pupils should continue to practice handwriting and be encouraged to increase the speed of it, so that problems with forming letters do not get in the way of their writing down what they want to say.  They should be clear about what standard of handwriting is appropriate for a particular task, for example, quick notes or a final handwritten version.  they should also be taught to use an unjoined style, for example, for labelling a diagram or data, writing an email address, or for algebra and capital letters, for example, for filling a form.”

And in the consultation document for the performance descriptors against which children will be assessed in the future (KS1-KS2_Performance_descriptors_consultation (2))

To be working at ‘national standard’, children at the end of Year 2 (seven year-olds) need to demonstrate that: 

  • They hold a pencil comfortably and correctly.
  • Their handwriting is legible with almost all lower case letters, capital letters and digits accurately and consistently formed and of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another.
  • Words are almost always appropriately and consistently spaced in relation to the size of the letters.
  • Some diagonal and horizontal strokes are used to join letters.

And at the end of primary school, to be working at National Standard, eleven year-olds must demonstrate:

  • Legible, fluent handwriting is usually maintained when writing at efficient speed. This includes appropriate choice of letter shape; whether or not to join letters; and writing implement.

So, whether we like it or not, children are being judged on the neatness of their handwriting.  And, when looking at children’s’ work, whether as a parent, teacher, inspector, or anyone else, first impressions count and it can be challenging to see beyond untidy handwriting, even if the content of the writing is amazing.

So, why do so many children still leave primary school with poor handwriting?

Schools will generally have a handwriting ‘policy’, with some adopting a specific font, or style of writing.  This may be dictated by a published handwriting ‘scheme’.  I once asked a well-renowned English consultant which was the best handwriting scheme.  He said that it did not matter which one a school used as long as they chose one, and used it consistently and well throughout the whole school.  And I agree.  But I think a lot of published schemes overcomplicate things.

I found this link which I think simplifies the teaching of handwriting and I would recommend it to anyone involved in children, writing and the teaching of writing at all.  It’s just 13 minutes long and I’m confident will transform the teaching of handwriting in your school or to your children as a parent.

One of the schools I have worked with showed the video to their teachers and within a fortnight, there was a significant difference in the quality of children’s handwriting across the whole school.

One of the other keys to handwriting is correct pencil grip for children.  Again, this is something that many schools do not get quite right.  I found this lovely example of how some schools tackle this – in this document – Stages of Pencil Grip Development – there are 4 drawings of the different stages of pencil grip development.  These can be used to create a display in a classroom, with children’s names on the display depending on which stage of development they are at.  As they progress, their name moves to the next stage.  This gives the adults working with the children a clear reminder of the children they need to work with and also, a clear reminder of what the next step should be.  I really like this.

The other tip for improving handwriting is to raise its profile.  Give it a focus.  Make it the big drive across the whole school for a half-term.  Mention it in every assembly, in every newsletter, make it the focus of rewards that are given out, have handwriting competitions with prizes.

And the best thing about all this – no budget needed at all – except for the prizes of course!

Click here More on handwriting to read some responses to this post.

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