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 (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.

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 DfE standards.

In handwriting specialist company Start-Bee's 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.  Only two out of 75 pupils could write, that’s astonishing." said, Start-Bee's Founder and CEO, Melanie Harwood.

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, 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 the subject 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 consistent or effective method with which to teach handwriting, plus a font some pupils find hard to write with 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." says Melanie.

It was this lack of handwriting provision in EYFS that prompted Harwood to form Start-Bee.  Start-Bee (www.start-bee.com) is a proven method for teaching handwriting that bridges the gap between a how-to-handwrite book and a teacher trained in handwriting.  Within seven lessons the Start-Bee method can take a complete handwriting beginner from making marks to writing their name, that’s every child - including dyslexic and SEN learners.  

In 2011, Harwood was devastated when her four-year-old daughter, Hannah-Jane, was refused entry into a local primary school because she was unable to write her own name and struggling with basic mark making.   In response, the former TV producer developed her very own writing method to fast-track her daughter’s handwriting.  Within a matter of days, Hannah-Jane was writing her own name and she was accepted into the local primary school. 

Hannah-Jane went into Year 1 able to write entire pages of joined up script and her spelling skills improved too.  Her reading age jumped to an ORT reading level 11 within a year (unheard of) and her Maths skills improved to such an extent that she was raised to the upper skill set of her age group.  She now absolutely loves every aspect of school, whether it is Geography, Science, History or English.  Being able to write well has boosted her confidence and her academic ability as a whole.  So DfE requirements aside, good handwriting is key to unlocking a child’s academic potential.  A fact supported by an increasing number of research papers which show that children are able to write more words, faster and express more ideas when writing essays by hand versus by typing on a keyboard and that cursive writing helps boost brain development in the same way as learning to play a musical instrument.

After five years researching, developing and delivering handwriting lessons to after-school groups, Start-Bee has developed a handwriting scheme for schools specifically aimed at teaching classroom beginners how to write as well as fast-tracking those lagging behind.  This includes a method for assessing an individual, class and year groups’ handwriting capability.  Developed primarily for primary school pupils, the Basics Bootcamp handwriting intervention programme can teach any pupil, who is struggling with handwriting, how to correct old habits and write legibly, fluently and with ease. Before it is launched into the market place at this year’s Education Show, thanks to sponsorship from BIC® UK, Start-Bee has been refining the final product with two schools: The Leys Primary & Nursery School, Stevenage and Down Hall Primary in Rayleigh, Essex.  Over a 10-week trial period Start-Bee has been liaising closely with each school making sure the scheme works seamlessly and effectively within the existing environment and in a way that enables any teacher or teaching assistant to run a handwriting lesson, no matter what their skills or knowledge of teaching handwriting.

Start-Bee will be launching the handwriting scheme at BIC’s stand (F28) at the Birmingham NEC’s Education Show in March.  BiC and Melanie Harwood will also be hosting three live Q&A sessions at the show discussing the right (or should that be the write?) way to teach handwriting in schools alongside the school teachers who took part in the trials.  For more information about Start-Bee, visit their website at www.start-bee.com or email Melanie Harwood at info@start-bee.com.

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