At the recent All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education meeting, a number of us who did not have close links with teacher training were shocked to hear that over the three or four years of teacher training, a number of students received just two hours of art, craft and design teaching – often only a lecture and not in any way practical – and most not much more than that.
That teachers were then expected to put across such subjects with confidence and enthusiasm with so little help and support is truly staggering. One secondary teacher asked her class how much art they had done in primary school and was told ‘none, because my teacher didn’t like it’.
This is desperately sad but not a surprise. How unfair for all children who should be experiencing creativity, and the joy of making. These practical creative subjects also, of course, develop hand-eye co-ordination and so much more.
In light of this, I was speaking to some young teachers recently and asked them how much training they had received in teaching handwriting. Their response was even more shocking – none! Detailed training is given in English, Maths and Science, but absolutely none in how to record those subjects – handwriting!
There are explicit curriculum requirements at Key Stages on what children should be achieving (http://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/national-curriculum-england.html) but it seems that there is no guidance for teachers in how to teach this to children.
As one young teacher put it: ‘It’s like putting a maths sum on the board and expecting children to be able to work it out themselves without understanding numbers and their relationship to one another’.
In further conversation I was told that in one school, when they teach handwriting they are told to pass on to children that all letters start on the base guideline so that they can be joined.
So centuries of constructing letter-forms have been thrown out of the window because the head teacher does not understand letter construction, and a whole generation of children will have real problems making their letters legible when they start to join and speed up.
I noticed this recently with a five year-old’s writing, who had started school last September. The letter m had no downstroke, and the letter d went all around the houses to get back to where it should end. The teacher had not corrected this.
What a disservice we are doing to our children, who will have either to work out for themselves how to construct letters properly, or will lose marks in exams and tests because their letter-forms are so poor that when they speed up they will lose legibility.
Fortunately many of those who are winners and finalists in the National Schools’ Handwriting Competition will have far fewer problems because their good letter formation and handwriting skills already put them on the front foot.
The standard of the four year-olds this year was particularly impressive, and this continued with the five and six year-olds. For the first time the challenges of choosing a winner and finalists from vast numbers of excellent entries from those in years seven, eight and nine did not arise, but all finalists here were of a very high standard.
Points to bear in mind for next year are that paper can be used either way, portrait or landscape. Some poems sit better on the page when landscape, particularly in the own choice class. It would also be helpful if teachers were able to emphasise ‘by doing’ the importance of writing carefully and well, as almost all do. However, the entries on paper torn (and not always carefully) from a pad with a serrated edge did not really send out this message to the children who had to write on that paper. There were three prize-winners whose entries were on a lovely card-weight paper, but there was no post code on the back, so they could not be considered. Someone in ‘Admin’ was also a winning entry, an adult, but with no post code, so could not be considered. Some schools print ‘Name’ (with a gap to be filled in), age (to be filled in) and also the school’s post code on the back of the paper used which then avoids this problem. And I sometimes struggled to work out the children’s names on the back when the teacher had written it!
But overall the standard is still high and it is to be hoped that those schools that are not serving our children well look at these entries and see what can be achieved by the finalists in these various age groups.
Patricia Lovett MBE