Left-handers 'do not get equal help'

17th May 1996 at 01:00
Campaigners pressing for the needs of left-handed pupils to be included in teacher-training courses have criticised the Government's rejection of their demands.

Up to 20 per cent of children may be left-handed to some degree, according to the British Left-Handers Association. It says many have cramped, untidy writing and may be under-achieving at school as a result.

The association has been campaigning for five years for teachers to be made aware of left-handedness, including basic techniques to help them write properly.

It also wants left-handed equipment, such as scissors and rulers, to be more widely available in schools.

The Department for Education and Employment does not keep any record of the number of left-handed children in Britain, or monitor the impact of left-handedness on educational achievement.

Junior minister Robin Squire has, moreover, indicated that there are no plans to make left-handedness part of teacher training.

In reply to a series of parliamentary questions by Worcester Tory MP Peter Luff, Mr Squire said teaching courses already required teachers to be able "to identify and to respond appropriately to relevant individual differences between pupils". He added: "Despite being left-handed, I see no need for further information from providers in this respect."

Mr Luff, who is also left-handed, now intends to take the matter up with the department in person.

"There is a simple solution to a small but important problem," he said. "It just needs someone to take responsibility for putting the solution in place. It would have made my life a lot better, but now I am stuck with writing in a very funny way."

The BHLA, whose case is supported by the Universities Council for the Education of Teachers, has condemned the Government's response as "alarming".

"It is a matter of equal opportunities. Left-handed children do not get equal help," said spokeswoman Lauren Milsom.

"We know of an awful lot of parents of 11-year-olds starting to use fountain pens who are beginning to worry about their handwriting. We even hear of children who have trouble studying subjects such as technology because their teachers have no empathy with left-handedness.

"We are very aware that teachers are under a lot of pressure, but this is something that we think would be so simple if it was introduced at an early stage."

In 1992 a study of more than 1,000 primary pupils in Manchester found that most teachers claimed to be aware of left-handed children in their class.

But apart from seating them to the left of right-handed friends to avoid clashing elbows, it appeared little else was done.

The report, by Diane Paul, founder of the Left-handed Studies, discovered some pupils were still struggling with writing, sewing and right-handed equipment, leaving them feeling stupid.

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