A plea to all primary teachers

Anyone who has seen the title of this post and is rubbing their hands in anticipation of some secondary/primary bashing is going to be disappointed. This post is about something which seems to be on the increase and which I observe every September – an increasing number of year 7 children who tell me that no one at primary school told them either how to hold a pencil or do joined up handwriting.

Now, I am well aware that the child’s memory may well be at fault, yet I have been teaching for a long time and it seems a relatively recent phenomenon. Year 7 children who struggled with handwriting used to say “they showed me and tried to get me to do it but I found it too hard.” Fair enough – for all my efforts to get pupils to master tense formation in foreign languages, I have some in my GCSE class who can’t conjugate verbs correctly in the present tense, let alone other tenses, so I know that, despite one’s best efforts, children can continue to struggle. Some of my year 7s who appear to have writing difficulties  say that they were indeed shown, but over the past few years an increasing number claim, possibly wrongly, that they were left to find their own way, or told that they could use a keyboard instead. By the way, I am talking about able pupils with high CATs/FFT/KS2 test scores, not low achievers by any means.

It is almost tragic watching able pupils, who are quick to grasp grammar patterns in a foreign language and can read well, struggling to take notes or complete written work in class because they can’t hold a pencil properly or join up their letters.  And much as I would like to keep them behind to practise handwriting, the children concerned have other lessons to go to and my intervention has to prioritise examination classes. The gap between pupils who can write fluently and those who cannot (despite being of similar ability) gets wider and by the end of the Easter term the pupils themselves are realising it. Some, belatedly, do try to practise writing differently, but the rest get annoyed at how quickly those who can hold pencils correctly and do joined up writing can take notes and write paragraphs. Yes, we can(and do) give them tablets, but GCSE and A level examinations are still handwritten and only those with SEN are allowed to use keyboards.

As I say, this is not a “let’s bash primary teachers” post. Children often claim they were never taught something and it is often untrue. Children who claim they were not taught pencil grip and joined up handwriting may well have been taught, but just have selective memories. However, just in case there are teachers who believe that pencil grip and joined up handwriting will all come naturally and that handwriting doesn’t matter in the age of the keyboard, I plead with you to think again.




About fish64

Full time teacher for over 30 years - last 9 years as Head of Department. Broadly traditional - I support the idea of core knowledge - but disagree with scripted lessons! All views my own
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9 Responses to A plea to all primary teachers

  1. Schools in England are full of children – and adults – with grotesque ‘pencil holds’. This goes beyond just variations of the tripod grip.

    We need proper training for teachers and teaching assistants in this field – both pencil hold and how to model, and mark, in good print then good joined handwriting (whatever the school’s style and age-appropriately).

    I think this is a major issue, not a small one.

    It starts at nursery age – the idea that children ‘aren’t ready’ to hold a pencil correctly. They get entrenched bad habits when left entirely to their own devices – and this includes children who are naturally precocious with early drawing and writing.

    Then, foundational literacy takes place far too much through ‘fun games and activities’ which are ‘extraneous’ and not truly fit for purpose.

    Teaching has become entirely dominated with the use of mini whiteboards – including phonics teaching – setting children up into poor posture (sitting on the floor) – and wipe-away-all-the-work-no-accountability- no monitoring-no intrinsic satisfaction-no differentiation for handwriting.

    And so it goes on.

    When children reach secondary age, they may well individualise their handwriting, but they should be given the choice of a mature, neat joined script for when this would serve them well, as appropriate. Then they do have a choice.

    I provide free guidance and resources because, like you, I think this is very important and an issue that should be raised:


    I’ll repost.


  2. Flagged up here where there are also links to research about the importance of handwriting:



  3. Tami Reis-Frankfort says:

    In this age of the key board, handwriting still matters. Thanks fish64 for this post.


  4. Rob says:

    Never worked in or been in a primary school that doesn’t teach children to hold pencils correctly. Perhaps the fact you are so willing to believe your year 7s who say they haven’t been taught to use one might go some way to explain the appalling decline in standards of presentation in secondary schools from what pupils were capable of in year 6.

    And yes, you are primary bashing.


    • fish64 says:

      I think if you read carefully what I say, you will see that I do not automatically believe a child who says they were not taught something. But the fact that you have never taught in a primary school that doesn’t teach children to hold pencils correctly does not exclude the fact that there may be some teachers that believe it will all come naturally, or give children a keyboard/tablet the moment they say they find it difficult.


  5. The Quirky Teacher says:

    I don’t like WB or WB pens because they are really thick and encourage a sort of clenched fist grip in children which is very difficult to unpick over the years. The inevitable ‘font size’ that WB pens produces also encourages children to write huge letters, thus undoing any work on fine motor skills during handwriting class.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fish64 says:

      I know mini whiteboards were the “in” thing about 10 years ago (I couldn’t bear the faff of handing out the boards and pens to find that at least 3 pens didn’t work, so I didn’t bother) – do you think most primaries still use them a lot?

      Liked by 1 person

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