Primary Schools engage a 5 year old teacher to deliver an innovative new method to ensure all their pupils achieve handwriting success

Down Hall Primary School in Essex are using an innovative new method of teaching their children to write by hand, delivered by a 5 year old child to their Early Years Reception Pupils and using the latest streaming technology to deliver the lessons to every classroom throughout the school, resulting in their Early Years and Key Stage 1 pupils being assessed by Ofsted as "Exceeding Expectations in Handwriting".

A Primary School in Essex has successfully trialled and collaborated with the creators of an innovative new way of teaching children how to write in Early Years. The "teacher" delivering the lessons to the Early Years Reception pupils was only 5 years old when she first started filming the lessons that are now helping thousands of children to master the very basics of writing in schools up and down the country.

Hannah-Jane is the child who has filmed more than three hundred handwriting lessons which are being used by primary schools to ensure their pupils achieve legible and fluent handwriting. Hannah-Jane recalls filming the entry level handwriting lessons when she had only just turned 5, continuing to film even more lessons for an innovative Handwriting Scheme for a further five years (she is now 10 years old) and says she enjoys it so much that she wants to become a professional TV Presenter when she is older.

The programme was created by her mother, originally to help Hannah-Jane herself to master the basic mechanics of handwriting when she herself was in Reception. Melanie Harwood explains, "Our children need consistency when being taught handwriting and the one person I knew that would deliver the step-by-step instructions clearly was Hannah-Jane. She was only five years old when she jumped in front of the camera when I was filming a trial lesson. She told me that I wasn't getting it right and that she would show me how to do it properly! That was that, she simply told me to step aside, that she knew how to teach the children to write because she loved being able to write and to be quiet while she filmed her lesson! When I asked a primary school to try a few of her earlier lessons, they told me the children loved learning to write with Hannah-Jane. She worked her way through all the exercises I had created for her to learn how to write. From the age of 5 years through to 10 years of age, the pupil became the teacher and her lessons have proved to be so successful that she now teaches thousands of children to write in primary schools throughout the United Kingdom! We are so very proud of the powerful results she is helping so many children achieve in schools up and down the country!"

Hannah-Jane has not stopped there and is now filming a new series of handwriting lessons for SEN school pupils in Key Stage 3 (aged 12 to 17 years) delivering her handwriting lessons to teenage children who want to learn to write with her clear, step-by-step approach, with embedded messages to keep the learners on track as they progress from the Handwriting For Beginners Programme right through to the All Joined-Up! Programme to ensure they write legibly and fluently. She says, "It makes me feel proud that I am helping other children who are struggling with handwriting just like I was when I was little but now I can show them how easy it is with the exercises my clever mum created for me, it's a doddle and learning to write is lots of fun too. I hated the boring copy books that school kept trying to get me to fill in, they just didn't make sense to me and I couldn't engage with them at all so my mum came up with fun exercises which got me to enjoy each step of learning to write, she also ensured I learned to hold my pencil correctly and build up the stamina needed for writing too. I love writing now and it has helped me do well in all my subjects at school!".

Down Hall is a large primary school in Rayleigh, Essex with currently 292 pupils on role from ages 4 to 11. In 2013 the school was inspected by Ofsted during which the schools’ inspectorate specifically highlighted inconsistencies in the school’s teaching of handwriting, requesting that the school adopt a more consistent approach to teaching the subject so that every child would have an opportunity to develop their handwriting further. The school had already taken several successful measures to address this: handwriting was timetabled three times a week, the school’s handwriting policy, rewritten and the expectations for each year group clearly outlined.

Miss Bec Wakefield, Early Years Teacher and English subject leader at Down Hall is passionate about handwriting, says, “Even in a digital age of iPads, whilst children have to handwrite their SATs tests it is so important for every child to master a clear, fluid, legible style of handwriting if their work is to be assessed to its full potential. Some teachers don’t fully appreciate the importance of handwriting and from personal experience newly qualified teachers are coming into school without knowing how to teach handwriting. It would appear that the subject is being overlooked during teacher training. In my experience, if you haven’t been taught how to teach handwriting how can I expect new teachers to deliver a lesson appropriately and effectively?”

The school has experienced at first hand the greater emphasis Ofsted is now placing on the quality and presentation of handwriting in school.

Comment from Miss Bec Wakefield about the raising of attainment at Down Hall Primary after their pupils were taught to write by a 5 year old "Teacher" delivering handwriting lessons streamed into each classroom:

“We were delighted to be running the Start-Bee handwriting programme in our school as this further improved the standards of writing across EYFS (Reception), the Year 1 and 2 year groups. The company’s Handwriting Match Fit Assessment helped us develop a child, class and year group specific handwriting strategy, which is exactly what Ofsted want to see. Finally, we could see what needed to be addressed and have visual references of the standards we needed to achieve and the results were incredible!"

Down Hall saw the benefits in less than a term of rolling out the lessons delivered by Hannah-Jane and streamed into their classrooms, three times per week, to a timetable set out by Ms Wakefield. Ofsted also saw the same improvements when they returned in April 2016, noting that the children in EYFS and Years 1 and 2 were now exceeding expectations in handwriting. As a result, along with other improvements, the school's grade was lifted to ‘good’.

Mrs Lou Nelson, Headteacher of Down Hall Primary School, wanted the Start-Bee Handwriting Preparedness Programme to be delivered to their Early Years Reception Group and the children reacted well to being taught by an age appropriate peer-to-peer teacher who was streamed into their classroom three times per week. Ms Wakefield says, "We were best placed to collaborate with Start-Bee's creator, Melanie Harwood, and a new programme was specifically created for the Early Years Free Flow Lessons which were a big hit with both the children and the teachers too." The children in that Reception year group had only two months of the Start-Bee Handwriting for Beginners Programme and we wanted to see what the results would be if we were to deliver the lessons from the very entry point of the Early Years Reception year.

“Our innovative programme has helped Down Hall Primary School, to exceed expectations with their Early Years - Reception pupils who are now well on their way to ending Year 1 writing in a legible and fluent, joined-up script, not only meeting DFE standards but exceeding them,” says Start-Bee founder Melanie Harwood. After one year of Start-Bee in the Reception Year, 93% of pupils assessed using the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment, were Achieving Expected Outcomes for KS1 and even more exciting is that 32% were Achieving Working at Greater Depth for KS1 . Their recent Handwriting Match Fit Assessment also flagged up a small group of children that had worked through the handwriting lessons in their Reception Year that need more help with handwriting and Ms Bec Wakefield, Literacy Lead at Down Hall Primary School, has set up a Handwriting Breakaway Group which will be delivered in Year 1 to further support those pupils with their handwriting.

Mrs Lou Nelson, Headteacher of Down Hall Primary School, says, "Being able to now use the resulting data from the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment, our team is better equipped to plan each child's Personal Handwriting Strategy, a Year Group Handwriting Strategy and even a School Wide Handwriting Strategy! This ensures that children who are struggling with pencil grip, poor handwriting posture and the fine and gross motor skills that are so important for being able to write legibly and fluently are fully supported.We are so pleased with the results our pupils are achieving and the raising of attainment that handwriting delivers is key to their future academic and personal success."

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About Harwood Education

Harwood Education has teamed up with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) to develop and deliver an innovative Climate Change Education Programme for primary and secondary schools in the UK. This ambitious multi-annual project will seek to develop a comprehensive package of interactive classroom materials on climate change for school teachers and children:

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