Schools are hiring handwriting specialists to tackle a drop-off in children’s pen skills caused by the use of laptops and tablets during the pandemic and a lack of opportunities for extended writing.
When children return in September, many will spend extra time with the specialists, and also occupational therapists who will be employed specifically to help children who have fallen behind.
“It is very clear that the pandemic has had a huge impact on learning,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. “The latest evidence on this was key stage 2 SATs results, which showed that the percentage of pupils achieving the expected standard in writing, maths, grammar, punctuation and spelling was quite markedly down on 2019 before the pandemic began. In the case of writing, it was nearly 10% lower.”
Lockdowns compelled millions of children to do schoolwork at home on laptops and tablets, typing instead of writing. Waves of staff and pupil absences when children were back at school caused further disruption and have taken their toll on handwriting skills.
“The sounding out of letters and the mapping of that sound to a movement on paper is really quite complex when you are young and learning, so that means explicit teaching,” said Dr Mellissa Prunty, a senior lecturer in occupational therapy at Brunel University London and chair of the National Handwriting Association. “Children need to be taught how to write. They don’t just pick it up. It really needs to be practised, and the problem during the pandemic is that writing dropped off a cliff. ”
To try to tackle the problem, schools are using one-off government Covid catch-up premium funding or national tutoring funding. The latter will see £349m going directly to schools in 2022-23. It will cover 75% of the cost of tuition, with schools having to find the other 25%.
Mill Lane primary school in Stockton-on-Tees has used its catch-up premium to employ a specialist writing teacher in order to accelerate progress in writing.
At King Athelstan school in Kingston, greater London, a specialist teacher has provided phonics intervention three times a week to recap sounds taught in reception and link this to handwriting.
Writing support for children in years 5 and 6 at St Peter and St Paul Church of England primary, in Bexhill, Sussex, is being delivered by a specialist teacher working alongside classroom teachers to provide high-quality tuition in writing for classes and groups.
Learning loss interventions at Grasmere primary school in Hackney also include addressing the deterioration in handwriting.
A new scheme at Brunel University will see occupational therapy students going on placements to local primaries specifically to help children who have fallen behind in writing.
“The government has invested £4.9bn into supporting education recovery since 2020-21, which we very much welcome. However, we are not convinced that this is sufficient for the scale of the task,” said Barton.