A simple idea to improve children’s written work

July 14, 2015
Deb Sutton

Deborah Sutton

Headteacher, Bassett Green Primary School

Our ‘Work Proud’ guidelines are giving students confidence in their handwriting.

Putting pen to paper should be a natural instinct for children by the time they reach Key Stage 3: the gateway into articulating their thoughts, expressing complex ideas and answering questions with confidence and fluency.

After four years working at a large secondary school in a pretty tough area, I'd seen four cohorts of fresh-faced Year 7 children arrive and settle into life in secondary education.

It always surprised me that they seemed relatively lacking in confidence, particularly when it came to written work. A simple spelling mistake could cause a total meltdown out of the blue, and torn out pages or screwed up worksheets were far too common for my liking.

This year, in my new role as headteacher of one of the largest feeder primaries, the penny dropped.

They had never been allowed to use a pen before. Despite an elaborate system of handwriting schemes of work, certificates and pen licenses, not one child in my current Year 6 was writing with a pen at any point.

Handwriting, and indeed basic letter formation, had lost its way after the early years foundation stage, and simply not been a priority. It was no wonder that no child ever achieved the complex criteria for a pen licence.

"We held a whole school INSET on handwriting, and launched a school-wide handwriting font which is displayed in all classrooms."

Without basic training in letter formation and cursive script, our children are being limited to printing for the rest of their writing careers. If we don’t help them to develop the basic skills to write down their thoughts quickly and easily, we are limiting their communication for all time.

Imagine how difficult it must be to be thinking constantly about what the next letter looks like, rather than focusing on the content of the writing, or the great ideas that you want to express.

Having discovered this fundamental writers’ block, at our school we have produced ‘Work Proud’ guidelines to upgrade the quality of the children’s written work. Drawn up by year teams, these aim to ensure high quality presentation across the year group. Each reflects the stage of development and age-related expectations for those children.

The guidelines include simple rules: in maths we write one digit in each square in our book; if we make a mistake we put a single line through it and write the word again; we always underline titles and then miss a line.

We held a whole school INSET on handwriting, and launched a school-wide handwriting font which is displayed in all classrooms. All staff are trying hard to model this font to children, either in their own handwriting, or by using the electronic versions that can transform a word document in one click!

None of this is radical or earth shattering; indeed, many schools will have had this in place for years.

There’s still some work to do in managing mistakes and building fluency, but we have taken steps to give our children confidence in their writing, preparing the ground for them to be expressive, articulate writers for the rest of their lives.


This article originally appeared on the website of Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019, the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.


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