Teachers are not adequately trained to teach children how to write, resulting in the lowest literacy levels in decades, with one in three children leaving our primary schools functionally illiterate.
Headteachers up and down the country are focusing on ensuring all their pupils know how to hold a pencil correctly by the end of their first year in Primary School, as per the recent OFSTED Directive - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-42167739.
But a survey conducted by Handwriting Specialist, Melanie Harwood, raised serious concerns. "In the past decade, teachers have not been trained to teach the correct pencil grip, nor to assess whether a child’s pencil grip flags up hypermobility in their joints (writing with a standard pencil for these children could be painful). Simply put, teachers did not know what "good writing looks like", nor did they know how to assess the potential barriers to learning to write that hinders some pupils' progress from the very outset."
A group of concerned Headteachers and Teachers collaborated with Harwood, to create a simple Handwriting Assessment which is now transforming how children’s handwriting skills are assessed in schools. Headteachers were keen to turn around the poor handwriting and presentation skills of their pupils and agreed that something had to be done when the assessment flagged up the high percentage of children that needed more help with particular areas of learning the very basic steps of writing well.
She says that she was shocked by the low achievement of the children in schools rated as: Outsanding, Good, Requires Improvement and even those in Special Measures. “It did not make a difference whether the school was rated as Outstanding or whether it was in Special Measures, because the baseline results for handwriting were always the same in every school I assessed. I asked teachers if they had been trained to teach handwriting and many of them replied that they had not. I asked if they knew what to look out for when marking their pupil’s work, what would show them if a child was struggling with letter formation or even whether pupils were struggling to write on a line and they said that they did not. The biggest problem was pencil grip! I saw that too many teachers simply did not know how to teach their pupils how to hold a pencil correctly. Worryingly, they did not know which writing tools to transfer their pupils across to when those children were clearly hypermobile and holding a “normal” pencil could be painful for them. The number of children holding a pencil as if it were a banana were scandalous. I realised that the Education System was failing an entire generation of children because teachers simply did not know what good writing looked like or how to assess the potential barriers that hamper some children’s progress to learn to write well. There was no consistency from the Department of Education to ensure that all schools assess handwriting to a set standard of expectations to ensure all children learn to write well (legibly and fluently).
The assessment was flagging up serious concerns and inconsistencies in the teaching of what many consider to be a basic human right. Harwood explains, "Being taught how to write well enables a child to communicate and to express themselves in more ways than one can begin to quantify, because it is a core life skill and a cornerstone to educational and social mobility. Handwriting gives physical form to our thoughts and emotions, it is profound how important being able to write well is to our learning journey and future trajectory in life, as strong literacy skills open the doors to a productive economic future."
An entire generation of children are struggling to write legibly and fluently and even Cambridge University recently stated that they will no longer expect their students to write out tests or coursework by hand because the lecturers can no longer read their handwriting.
Academics, Business Leaders and Parents asked, "How did we get to this crisis point in education and how do we solve it quickly?!"
Mrs Kate Tuff of St Joseph’s in Cleethorpes suggested Harwood change the marking outline to that of the Department of Education’s, which made it possible to streamline the resulting baseline data of each class assessed. "We could now use Hard Data to denote each child’s handwriting ability according to the Standards and Testing Agency’s Expectations for Handwriting for children in Key Stage 1 (School Years 1 to 3) and Key Stage 2 (School Years 4 to 6). And that was just the beginning!" recounts Harwood.
A turning point in the metamorphosis of her Handwriting Assessment, was when Mrs Lou Nelson, Headteacher of Down Hall Primary School in Rayleigh, Essex, took the resulting data from her school’s most recent Handwriting Assessment and uploaded it onto her school data tracking software.
The hard data could be split into more than 20 groupings, for example, Spring Born v Winter Born Children, SEN Children v Children in receipt of Pupil Premium Funding (children in receipt of Free School Meals) and so much more. It was fascinating for both Harwood and the school Management Team to see how each child’s handwriting attainment at the end of the school year could be tracked to ensure their progress could be followed but, most importantly, no child would now fall through the net and leave primary school still struggling to write well because interventions could be put into place much sooner for those that needed more help.
Mrs Lou Nelson, Headteacher of Down Hall Primary School, Rayleigh, Essex, explains, “Start-Bee’s Handwriting Match Fit Assessment visually highlighted the progress the children had made from their baseline Handwriting Assessment not only in letter formation but also in their writing posture, pencil grip, stamina and the care the children took with their work.”
Ms Bec Wakefield, Early Years Teacher and English subject leader at Down Hall, says: “Even in this digital age of tablets and smartphones, children still have to handwrite their SATs tests so it is important for every child to master a clear, fluid, legible style of handwriting if their work is to be assessed to its full potential. We are delighted that the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment has already helped us develop a child, class and year group specific handwriting strategy, which is exactly what Ofsted want to see.”
When Melanie Harwood trained Miss Sarah Cooper, Literacy Lead, and Miss Fiona Cowan, Headteacher of Bolsover Infants and Pre-School, how to deliver not only the Handwriting Assessment to all their pupils but how to mark the completed Assessment Booklets themselves, Miss Cowan promptly delivered an inset training to all her teaching staff based on what she was shown in just one afternoon while marking her pupils very first Baseline Assessment. She says, “As soon as we saw the information that came from a quick and enjoyable 30-minute assessment we were astounded. The children absolutely loved doing the assessment activities. The teachers could not believe what the data told them about the children’s handwriting issues and what needed to be done. This was information that, for some of us with 20 plus years of experience, we have never had before."
Miss Fiona Cowan, Headteacher of Bolsover Infants and Pre-School sent over her own observations and training notes to Harwood and insisted she create an eLearning Handwriting Match Fit Assessment Training Course for teachers as soon as possible.
The eLearning Training Course is now exclusively available from leading education supplier, YPO, and they are positive it will train the future Handwriting Specialist Teachers that every school desperately needs. www.ypo.co.uk/start-bee
Denise Meissner, Occupational Therapist and Autism Specialist, recently wrote an Open Letter to teachers,
"Teachers and educators: you are our child's First Responder. You are there on the front lines dealing with our child's learning and behaviour challenges. The health of our society relies on the work you do and the impact you have on our children. With post-Brexit life looming over the horizon, employers need our children to develop strong writing skills because writing increases Reading, Maths, Science, and Communication Skills.
Why? Because employers are dealing with more than a decade of low productivity which in turn jeopardises profit. Yet, despite your best efforts, you are often not afforded the training and equipment you need to quickly identify and correct for underlying causes of our children’s challenges. Until now. With the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment, you can now perform a whole-class assessment through e-learning videos and a step-by-step practical exercise which is delivered painlessly in 30 minutes. With an age appropriate peer-to-peer presenter, guiding you and your students through the Assessment, you will collect baseline skills information on a variety of skills.
Some of the skills include the child's: joint stability and mobility; attention span; task completion; ability to copy and complete various lines and shapes (which are pre-requisites for writing); muscle tone; eye-hand coordination; and muscle memory. Once each child completes the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment, you will have physical proof of skills and issues that need to be addressed. As you train to deliver the Handwriting Scheme, you become a handwriting expert yourself, which increases your value to your school. Best of all, you and the pupils will create a bond built on trust and joy as you create amazing learning experiences and accomplishments. The pupils will see you and you will see them. Even other teachers and staff will see you and the impact you have on these children. You will be one of those teachers that the pupil will remember as they grow up and go out into the world. Wouldn't it be nice to trade in hard days for hard data, that you can use to effectively help a child progress from pain to poise?!”