Writing was the subject hit hardest by the pandemic

It’s official – Writing was the subject hit hardest by the pandemic


You may have seen the report by Juniper Education out today which says that:

  • Writing was the subject hardest hit by the pandemic.
  • All year groups have seen bigger drops in writing than in the other subjects.
  • The biggest fall in writing attainment was for Year 3, with only 58% of children working where they should be for their age in writing compared with 79% in 2019 – a drop of 21 percentage points.


Schools are already aware of this, but the challenge is how to help pupils catch up?

Sophie Lamb is a Year 1 Teacher at Kender Primary School in Lewisham,  London.  Sophie has chosen to focus on improving handwriting for the lowest 5 per cent of children by addressing handwriting for my NPQSL (National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership). Generally, the children who struggle the most with handwriting often struggle with broader education; they are the lower ability children. Here, Sophie shares useful tips on how to overcome them.

“My pencil is my friend. Our letters curl and bend, and when ideas refuse to come, I chew the other end” Julia Donaldson.

According to the National Handwriting Association, ‘Legible writing that can be produced comfortably, at speed and with little conscious effort allows a child to attend to the higher-level aspects of writing composition and content’. Yet handwriting is a complex skill for young children to master. It contains many elements, from letter formation to pencil grip. As a result, there will be many who have difficulty mastering it. Me included, which can make success hard to achieve in an education system reliant on the written word. Here are some of the tools and techniques we have used to support our youngest learners in developing their handwriting.

Tip 1: Pen grip

Interestingly, pen grip isn’t necessarily the key to good handwriting; many people use unconventional pen grips and are competent writers. However, it is generally accepted that encouraging the use of a tripod grip is best because it minimizes the risk of strain and offers the greatest control. A quick search of the web will give you plenty of ideas on different ways to encourage this pen grip in young learners, including threading beads onto straws as the child will need to pick them up with a tripod grip.

Top tip for pencil grip:  An easy one for the classroom is to get the child to hold a rolled-up piece of tissue in little and ring finger; this will encourage them to hold the pencil in a tripod grip.

Tip 2: Letter formation

Once children have a comfortable pencil grip, the next step in developing writing is letter formation. It’s important children begin forming letters correctly early on as it can be challenging to change the formation later. This means when writing a letter, it starts and ends in the correct place. Learning the correct formation will help children to write with speed and accuracy, allowing the writing to flow, particularly when children begin to learn cursive. The challenge as teachers is to ensure children are, in fact, forming letters correctly. Often the result is similar, and without seeing them physically write the letter, it can be hard to be sure they have started and finished the letter in the correct place. Especially with a class of 30. I have found that using a handwriting patter is helpful, i.e., ‘a’ would be ‘up over the hill, down round to the line, up-down and flick.’

Top tip for letter formation: Investigate how Edtech can help (see below), this can also make it more fun, and if children are enjoying handwriting, they will progress better.

Tip 3: Size of writing

Many children come to reception writing in capital letters; this is usually easier than lower case letters with ascenders and descenders, while capital letters are the same size. It can be challenging for children to get the size of lower-case letters consistent while making sure they write on the line; you might end up with a ‘g’ that’s all above the line or an ‘l’ that goes too far up. In addition, those lower-case and capital letters which are formed in the same way, i.e., ‘c’ ‘C’ and ‘p’ ‘P’, can further add to the confusion and hinder consistency in the size of writing. The size of writing is essential for presentation and can help ensure writing is clear for the child to read back.

Top tip for writing size:  Using ‘sky, grass, mud’ lines early on. This adds a visual element to writing, allowing children to see where the ascenders and descenders should go easily. This, combined with a handwriting patter, can be very effective, i.e., /d/ ‘up over the hill, down round to the line, up to the sky, down to the grass and flick’. Often you only need to use it for a short while.

Tip 4: Spacing

Having mastered pencil grip, letter formation and writing size, not to mention the phonics required to sound out and write words/sentences. Children must then learn to leave a space between each word to ensure what they have written can be read. This can be difficult for children, particularly if they haven’t fully grasped what words are and how they form sentences. However, understanding it doesn’t necessarily mean children will leave a space between words. An internet search will provide many ideas to support the use of finger spaces such as ‘finger space markers’ or simply using their own finger to make a space.

Top tip for spacing: A fun activity for young children is to write every word is in a different colour so that the difference between the words can be seen easily.

Tip 5: EdTech

It might seem strange to suggest that Edtech (Educational Technology) can support children with handwriting.  But with the advent of the tablet computer and stylus, which are now readily available to parents and schools, there are now more tools available to develop children’s handwriting skills. What’s the advantage of using EdTech? The children can often receive instant feedback and take part in interesting and engaging activities.

Top tip:  Look at what Edtech tools can help; we are fortunate enough to have 1:1 iPads at our school and have been using Kaligo to support our students in developing their handwriting through fun and engaging games, and the results have been impressive.

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