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Survey reveals impact of pandemic on young children’s handwriting


Nov 19, 2021

A new survey of primary teachers has revealed the extent that the pandemic has impacted on children’s handwriting in Yorkshire and North East England, with 85% of teachers saying disruption to their school has had a negative effect on pupils’ good handwriting habits.

The research, conducted by local educational publisher Schofield & Sims, also asked which areas of handwriting had been most affected. Stamina was most commonly highlighted by teachers, with 74% flagging it as an area of concern.

Responding to the findings, Michelle van Rooyen, an occupational therapist with a special interest in handwriting, said: ‘This research confirms what many educators are currently experiencing. Being able to write independently for extended periods of time is a crucial skill for children to nurture. Like those who responded to this survey, I am concerned for pupils who have been out of the classroom during the pandemic. The shift to using laptops and tablets, which use different muscles, and a wider freedom to complete tasks without a structured timetable will likely be key reasons why stamina is flagged as a cause for concern by teachers.’

Across all primary teachers surveyed in the region, writing stamina (74%), speed (60%), letter size and position (58%), fluency (55%) and letter joins (47%) were the five handwriting areas of most concern by the survey. Handwriting style (32%) was the area of writing that teachers felt had been least affected.

Good handwriting frees up mental bandwidth

The survey also found that two-fifths of teachers have increased the amount of time focused on handwriting since fully reopening school.

Commenting on the findings, Nick Platts, Chairman at Schofield & Sims said: ‘Schools understandably have a lot to tackle at the moment, but it is encouraging to see that handwriting is being prioritised by some schools for those children who need it. As a leading educational publisher based in Wakefield, we felt it was important to highlight these local issues and will continue to support schools, parents and tutors, as we have done for over 120 years.’

Handwriting is a foundational skill that unlocks children’s potential once mastered, but Michelle van Rooyen is concerned about how the disruption in schools could hold back children from displaying it, saying: ‘When produced with ease, good handwriting frees up mental bandwidth for other activities, which is vital given the wider catch-up happening in schools currently. But if a child is unable to put their ideas on paper, we are limiting their ability to share, and this will have a knock-on effect across their work.’

Record low levels of writing enjoyment

 This data comes after the National Literacy Trust revealed earlier this week that just 1 in 3 children and young people said they enjoy writing, the lowest level of writing enjoyment recorded by the charity since 2010. Their UK survey of 42,502 children and young people also recorded the lowest daily writing rate in the last 11 years.

Local schools hardest hit

The concerns from teachers also echo wider findings from the Education Policy Institute (EPI) into pupil learning loss. At a regional level, it found primary pupil’s reading and maths abilities in Yorkshire and the North East were among the worst affected, with those in Yorkshire and Humber behind by 2.6 months in reading and 5.8 months in maths when the school year began. By comparison, pupils in the South West were 1.5 months behind in reading, and 2 months in maths.