We do not have the capacity to offer individualised support to teachers and support staff, but please read the overview below, and see our Frequently Asked Questions page.
The skill of handwriting is a highly complex process. It involves many years of whole-body development, structured teaching and practising of each step. Such complexity requires an informed curriculum to guide educators and provide support.
At present in England, this is lacking. There is no ‘road map’ from the development of foundation skills through to achieving legible, fluent and fast writing at the end of the primary school.
Let us begin by examining the curriculum in some detail.
The Statutory Curriculum in England
|Key Stage||Ages||School Years|
|Early Years Foundation Stage||Birth to Five||Nursery/Reception|
|Key Stage 1||5–7||Years 1–2|
|Key Stage 2||7–11||Years 3–6|
|Key Stage 3||11–14||Years 7–9|
|Key Stage 4||14–16||Years 9–11|
Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS)
The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) begins at birth and ends at 5 years (usually the end of Reception year). The Statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2017) details the standards for the learning, development and care of children in this phase.
ALL schools and OFSTED-registered early years providers must follow the EYFS, including childminders, preschools, nurseries, and school nursery and reception classes.
There are non-statutory guidance materials available to support practitioners in implementing the requirements of the EYFS framework. The materials include guidance on development in the seven areas of learning: communication and language, physical development, personal, social and emotional development, literacy, mathematics, understanding the world, expressive arts and design.
EYFS practitioners who understand handwriting as a developmental process will recognise the benchmarks of ‘readiness’ and locate these when planning next steps. Without this understanding, practitioners may push children to write before they are developmentally ready.
Development of Handwriting in the EYFS
There has been no specific handwriting guidance for the EYFS since Gateway to Writing Development (2009). This gave advice in addition to pages 59-61 of Practice Guidance for the Early Years Foundation Stage (2008). Both included a very simple and essential instruction:
Teach children to form letters correctly.
These two publications disappeared with revisions to the EYFS in 2012.
The notes on effective practice in the revised materials omitted any mention of teaching letter formation. Since then, there has been considerable confusion in practice. Neither the statutory framework nor the resource materials for EYFS use the term handwriting, yet there are references to it throughout. For example:
Physical Development: Moving and Handling (40–60+ months)
- uses a pencil and holds it effectively to form recognisable letters, most of which are correctly formed.
Literacy: Writing (40–60+ months)
- attempts to write short sentences in meaningful contexts.
The ability to handwrite is also very much part of the statutory assessments at the end of the EYFS.
Early Learning Profile
At the end of Reception, children are assessed against 17 Early Learning Goals (ELGs) and three characteristics of effective learning. The profile indicates the level of progress in that goal: expected exceeding or emerging. There are references to handwriting (though not named) in Early Learning Goals 4 and 10:
ELG 04: Moving and Handling: Expected Level
- they handle equipment and tools effectively, including pencils for writing.
ELG 10: Writing: Expected Level
- they write simple sentences which can be read by themselves and others.
Achieving good results in the end of key stage assessments is of crucial importance to schools. Consequently, there is considerable pressure on practitioners to ‘get children writing’ whether or not they are developmentally ready. One casualty of this pressure is the effect on learning and practising the movements for each letter family. Many children enter Year 1 of the National Curriculum with letters incorrectly formed. Handwriting is predominantly a motor skill, so reversing the damage is difficult. In yet another example of confusion, the requirements for Year 1 begin with teaching letter formation!
Handwriting in the National Curriculum
Handwriting is an integral component of the English programmes of study for Key Stages 1 and 2. The programmes describe two dimensions of writing:
- Transcription (spelling and handwriting)
- Composition (articulating ideas and structuring them in speech and writing)
The curriculum demands that teaching should develop competence in both dimensions, as writing down ideas fluently depends on effective transcription. This relationship defines the role of handwriting as a functional tool in the writing process.
The National Curriculum programmes of study outline the statutory handwriting outcomes for each year of the curriculum and also provide additional non-statutory guidance.
|Non-Statutory Notes and Guidance|
|Year 1, Age 5–6||Pupils should be taught to: |
• sit correctly at a table, holding a pencil comfortably and correctly
• begin to form lower-case letters in the correct direction, starting and finishing in the right place
• form capital letters
• form digits 0–9
• understand which letters belong to which handwriting ‘families’ (i.e. letters that are formed in similar ways) and to practise these.
|Handwriting requires frequent and discrete, direct teaching. Pupils should be able to form letters correctly and confidently. The size of the writing implement (pencil, pen) should not be too large for a young pupil’s hand. Whatever is being used should allow the pupil to hold it easily and correctly so that bad habits are avoided. |
Left-handed pupils should receive specific teaching to meet their needs.
|Year 2, Age 6–7||Pupils should be taught to: |
• form lower-case letters of the correct size relative to one another
• start using some of the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters and understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left un-joined
• write capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another and to lower case letters
• use spacing between words that reflects the size of the letters.
|Pupils should revise and practise correct letter formation frequently. They should be taught to write with a joined style as soon as they can form letters securely with the correct orientation.|
|Years 3–4, Age 7–9||Pupils should be taught to: |
• use the diagonal and horizontal strokes that are needed to join letters and understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left un-joined
• increase the legibility, consistency and quality of their handwriting (for example, by ensuring that the downstrokes of letters are parallel and equidistant; that lines of writing are spaced sufficiently so that the ascenders and descenders of letters do not touch).
|Pupils should be using joined handwriting throughout their independent writing. Handwriting should continue to be taught, with the aim of increasing the fluency with which pupils are able to write down what they want to say. This, in turn, will support their composition and spelling.|
|Years 5–6, Age 10–11||Pupils should be taught to:|
• write legibly, fluently and with increasing speed by:
• choosing which shape of a letter to use when given choices and deciding whether or not to join specific letters
• choosing the writing implement that is best suited for a task.
|Pupils should continue to practise handwriting and be encouraged to increase the speed of it, so that problems with forming letters do not get in the way of their writing down what they want to say. They should be clear about what standard of handwriting is appropriate for a particular task, for example, quick notes or a final handwritten version. They should also be taught to use an un-joined style, for example, for labelling a diagram or data, writing an email address, or for algebra; and capital letters, for example, for filling in a form.|
A summary of handwriting requirements from the National curriculum in England: English programmes of study (2014).
Handwriting requirements are part of the statutory assessments for writing at the end of Key Stages 1 (Year 2) and Key Stage 2 (Year 6).
In awarding a level, teachers should be confident that pupils have met the standards preceding the one at which they judge them to be working. The following criteria apply for the 2018–2019 academic year.
Teacher Assessment frameworks at the end of Key Stage 1, Handwriting Requirements
Working towards the expected standard:
- form lower-case letters in the correct direction, starting and finishing in the right place
- form lower-case letters of the correct size relative to one another in some of their writing
- use spacing between words
Working at the expected standard:
- form capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one another and to lower-case letters
- use spacing between words that reflects the size of the letters
Working above the expected standard:
- use the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join some letters.
Teacher Assessment frameworks at the end of Key Stage 2, Handwriting Requirements
Working towards the expected standard:
- write legibly
At this standard, there is no specific requirement for a pupil’s handwriting to be joined
Working at the expected standard:
- maintain legibility in joined handwriting when writing at speed
The national curriculum states that pupils should be taught to ‘use the diagonal and horizontal strokes that are needed to join letters and understand which letters, when adjacent to one another, are best left unjoined’.
Working above the expected standard:
- There are no additional statements for handwriting
Exemptions for handwriting difficulties
Teachers can use their discretion to ensure that, on occasion, a particular weakness does not prevent an accurate judgement being made of a pupil’s attainment overall. This can be implemented for children with a handwriting difficulty who are secure in all other aspects of writing.
This brief look at the curriculum and assessment arrangements has illustrated the need for schools to develop their own handwriting policy to ensure effective practice.
For more support
- Watch this space for the 2019 edition of Developing a Handwriting Policy for Your School – coming soon!
- We publish books on other handwriting topics and short, succinct Tips for Teaching on card that might help you in your work. Note that there are reduced rates for members of NHA, and the Tips for Teaching may be downloaded free by members.
- You could sign up for a handwriting course.
- Or arrange for our in-service team to visit your school.