Headlines: June 9th, 2006

The importance of schools having proper policies on teaching handwriting is stressed in new research published today. The study, from the Institute of Education says children who do not learn to write legibly, fluently and quickly find it hard to cope at secondary school and university and could be as handicapped in the job market as people with poor reading and numeracy skills.The study found that not all primary schools have consistent handwriting policies and practices to ensure children acquire the skill. Researchers Anna Barnett, Rhona Stainthorp, Sheila Henderson and Beverly Scheib surveyed 39 large and small urban and rural primary schools in southeast England. The schools had varied socio-economic and ethnic pupil populations.

Most schools, the researchers found, had a designated person responsible for handwriting and had a written policy on the subject, but a quarter of those schools had one without the other. More than half the teachers surveyed did not feel they had received enough training in the teaching of handwriting. Only a third had been shown how to teach it as part of their initial teacher-training course.

The study,” Handwriting Policy and Practice in English Primary Schools”, shows that although most schools teach handwriting as a separate subject, less than half set aside time for practice. Only one in twenty of the schools which had handwriting policies taught children ways of increasing their speed, something that could affect pupils’ future performance in exams. The researchers also found little attention was given to ergonomic features, with only 13 per cent of schools considering the size of classroom furniture in relation to the size of the child.

Fewer than half – 45 per cent – of schools told parents about their methods of teaching handwriting or communicated with them about a particular child’s progress. There was very limited awareness, the study says, of the needs of children who were used to writing in a different script. Only four of the schools in the survey included had in any way considered how to accommodate them.

One of the report’s authors, Rhona Stainthorp, said, “Unless children learn to write legibly and at speed, their educational achievements may be reduced and their self-esteem affected. Handwriting is an essential skill for everyone, even in this age of computer technology.