'Adopt' a national writing style

9th June 2006 at 01:00
Sticking to the same script will help young children, insist researchers

Primary-aged children should be taught how to write properly and adopt a nationally-prescribed handwriting style, a report has recommended.

Researchers from London university's institute of education said that all primaries should have a handwriting policy and a dedicated member of staff to teach it.

The policy should take into account the problems encountered by left-handed children and those whose first language is not English. Pupils who have trouble writing should have special help.

The report said: "Although these children do not have special needs in the general sense of the term, they may need extra support with some aspects of literacy."

The policy would include instructions on what types of pen and paper children should use. The researchers found that lined paper is often helpful for pupils with handwriting difficulties.

Elaine Quigley, former president of the Institute of Graphologists, said:

"Handwriting is like tying your shoelaces. Everyone learns eventually, but it's good to be taught properly. It gives you a sense of stability and security."

The researchers interviewed teachers at 39 primaries in London and the South-east. Slightly more than half said that they set aside an area of the curriculum in which to teach writing. A third taught it inside and outside the literacy hour, as recommended in government guidelines.

The report said: "There was considerable variation between schools in both the depth and breadth of their policies."

Nonetheless, more than half the teachers questioned said that they thought it would be beneficial to have a national style for writing.

In Victorian schools, most children were taught a looped, cursive script.

But, by the middle of the 20th century, this formal teaching was deemed to curb creativity.

While some countries have a national style, English schools are free to select a style of their choice.

Bethan Marshall, lecturer in English at King's college, London, said: "This is another way of imposing uniformity. Children express their identity through the way they write. Can you imagine how bland everything would be if they all wrote the same way?"

Ms Quigley insists that adopting a national style would not prevent children from developing their own personal handwriting. She draws a comparison with Picasso, who learnt conventional artistic techniques, before developing his idiosyncratic style. "When you're writing as an adult, certain words or styles become important, and you subconsciously emphasise them," she said. "You can't suppress personality. Like body-language, handwriting is your mark, your individuality."

Writing quickly is a skill that should be taught, said the report. The researchers claimed that poor speed-writing is a key reason why only 63 per cent of Year 6 pupils achieve the expected level 4 in their key stage 2 tests.

Julia Strong, of the National Literacy Trust, said: "If you have poor handwriting, people think you're silly when you're not. That can cause depression. And girls in particular can suffer from an obsession with neatness, at the expense of content. Having someone in school who can look at handwriting and work with children can be very useful."

Handwriting policy and practice in English primary schools from: www.ioe.ac.ukpublications

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