One of our captains of industry recently complained that too many pupils are leaving school with unsatisfactory handwriting. "Eleven years of schooling and some pupils can't even hold a pencil properly," was his grumble.
He is, in my opinion, quite right, and many other teachers agree. Indeed over 80 per cent of teachers in a recent survey said standards of handwriting are declining, and we all know the computer keyboard is to blame.
There is a real problem if neat and legible handwriting is no longer viewed as the imperative it once was. The problem is compounded by the many new teachers who admit that their own handwriting leaves much to be desired. Some have decided to forfeit handwritten pupil reports for typed ones, a move which some parents have criticised for making reports more impersonal.
The saving grace for penmanship is the fact that test and exam answers still have to be handwritten and although no extra marks are awarded for finely-written answers, scripts which can't be deciphered are not awarded any marks.
This might change. Universities are already allowing some exam questions to be answered via keyboards and the school exam boards, including the Scottish Qualifications Authority, are also said to be considering the use of keyboards in exams.
So where will this leave handwriting? Some pupils question if there is any great need for handwriting at all. "Why insist on written answers to exams," one class of S5 pupils recently asked, "when most of us word- process our work?"
Away from school, handwritten messages are being replaced by messages created by the "3Ts" of typing, tapping and texting.
But the "handwriting isn't important" lobby ignores or undervalues the wider role of handwriting as a key building block of learning. Research has shown that handwriting assists important learning processes and helps to hone fine motor skills.
Other research indicates that handwriters spend more time working out and clarifying their thoughts than keyboarders. Good ideas which appear while writing are less likely to occur while keyboarding. Handwritten notes are better remembered than typed ones.
We need more time for penmanship and a set standard for pupils to reach. The experiences of other countries suggest a handwriting test may also help. Simple techniques can be taught, and handwriting problems eliminated, by lots of practice and good teaching.
John Greenlees is a secondary teacher.