Following on my from last article on why children are still being taught the entry/ lead-in stroke despite significant changes to the handwriting curriculum in 2022, we wanted to look at the issue of teachers being missold the concept of the lead-in stroke.
From our time spent with teachers, it is apparent that the entry/ lead-in stroke is still being used in schools without any understanding of the background and the significant damage it has, and is doing to children.
Recently, I discovered another new handwriting trend sweeping through schools – the teaching of ‘connected’ handwriting. Despite its high price tag, it is quickly finding its way into many UK schools without any research-based evidence or specialist training.
In my previous article, I referenced Angela Webb, former chair of the National Handwriting Association, who made the point of being aware of organisations who are selling their programmes, sighting perceived benefits in neurological programming and that continuous cursive supports reading development. Both of these “benefits” are totally unfounded with no research.
“Quick and easy” fix to handwriting
It is well known that teachers and schools lack time and resources in the classroom which is impacting all areas of a child’s education. With regard to teaching handwriting, the lack of time is compounded by a pressure for students to be able to join their handwriting for the primary assessments.
As a result, schools were sold the benefits of the entry/ lead-in stroke as a “quick and easy” solution to teaching children to learn joined-up handwriting from the start and in Key Stage 1.
The rush to join in order to show progression skips the fundamental developmental stages beginning with letter formation. This is akin to being given the keys to a car without any driving lessons.
The pressure to get pupils SATs-ready is having a significant negative impact as students are being penalised for illegible writing and being marked down once they reach secondary level.
Secondary school teachers are wondering why students are not performing to the best of their academic ability. They simply don’t have the ability to write legibly or at speed, therefore they are not performing to the best of their ability.
By having the wrong methods in place, and not affording students the time to practise, results in children who are not competent when writing by hand – a life skill.
Handwriting is missing from the Initial Teacher Training (ITT)
Despite undertaking a great deal of research and training to become a teacher, the same hasn’t been applied or allowed time to truly understand the best methods of learning how to write.
One of the root causes of poor handwriting in the classroom is the lack of awareness of the key developmental stages required for joined-up handwriting, which should be the fundamental element of any handwriting training in the Initial Teacher Training.
It is fundamentally wrong that a handwriting module isn’t included in the Initial Teacher Training. First and foremost, pupils go to school to learn to read and write, yet the individuals teaching them haven’t been taught how to teach handwriting.
Universities that do teach handwriting to their trainee teachers, have no idea how to teach it correctly based on the science of how we develop critical skills for learning to write by hand.
As a result, it is easy to see how schools have been missold the benefits of the entry/ lead-in stroke and now the new trend of connected writing, as they are time poor and unaware of the correct methods. Although, I would caveat this with the fact that in their guidance to all schools in summer 2021, the Department for Education stated that the entry/ lead-in stroke should not be taught and joined-up handwriting should be delayed.
If we are to improve standards in handwriting, then the mindset must change to prevent the current cohort of children, who due to lockdown missed out in EYFS and KS1 schooling, from struggling with handwriting when they reach secondary school.
Primary school headteachers, SLTs and SENCos I appeal to you; please stop seeking a one-size fits all solution by teaching young emerging writers joined-up/cursive handwriting. There is simply no need. Every child is unique and each one will learn at a different speed. Most children will not be developmentally ready to start joining up their handwriting until they are 8 years old. Year 3 is the best time to start learning how to join up letters.
Government, please stop testing primary school children on cursive handwriting. Not every child, especially children with Special Educational Needs, will be able to join up their handwriting for the Year 6 SATs. They maybe a ‘greater depth’ standard in all other areas of the curriculum, yet you set them up to fail because they are unable to write in cursive handwriting.
For the well-being of our children, emphasis must be placed on letter formation, legibility, pencil grasp and postural control.