The LHC Handwriting Campaign – a brief history.
Long-standing members of the Left Handers Club may be aware of our protracted struggle during the late 1990’s to see proper guidance in schools for our left-handed children. This page gives a history of that campaign and its outcome.
Timeline of the LHC campaign
Text of the debate on Left handed Children in UK Parliament 22 July 1998 (Hansard)
Quote from a recently qualified teacher with infant school experience
Link to Keith’s July 2012 article reporting on LHC member feedback and action plan
As most of you are aware, left-handed children require specific guidance when learning to write, relating to:
- pencil grip,
- hand & body positioning,
- paper position
- letter formation
These writing techniques are subtly but crucially different to those required of a right-hander (who pulls the pen across the page and away from their body when writing) and are essential if the left-hander is to achieve a comfortable and efficient writing style.
We therefore launched a campaign in 1995 to highlight this issue among teachers and parents, in an attempt to see left-handed writing skills included as standard teaching policy in all schools. We were spurred on in our campaign by the endorsement of the UK Teacher Training Authority and the support of Member of Parliament Peter Luff who helped to bring the issue to the attention of the then Minister for School Standards, Estelle Morris MP and head of the DFEE Charles Clarke MP.
Both these bodies acknowledged that this information was not available to teachers and trainee teachers and that there was no specific policy on helping left-handed children. Crucially, they also both agreed that such information needed to be available to teachers.
In November 1996 Lauren Milsom, Mark Stewart (of Anything Left Handed in Worcester) and Peter Luff met with the Chief Executive of the Teacher Training Agency (TTA) Ms Anthea Millett, who seemed most supportive of our cause and accepted the need for specific teaching for left-handers.
Ms Millett also accepted Lauren’s point that this was not a special needsâ€ issue, as left-handedness does not prevent good handwriting PROVIDED the correct guidance is given. Lauren stressed our strong belief this is actually an equal opportunities issue, since the simply basic right of children who write left-handed (to be given appropriate and specific teaching according to their handedness) is not being met. Ms Millet accepted this important distinction.
However, given the constraints and structure of the training system for teachers, Ms Millett advised that the most efficient way to get this training into the school system was via the Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinators (SENCO’s) in each school, who could be trained and duly pass on their knowledge to the left-handed children who would almost inevitably pass through her doors because of poor writing skills.
Ms. Millett offered to consider an entry in the SENCO training requirements manual to direct that all SENCO’s must be aware of the specific needs of left-handed children in handwriting and elsewhere. She also agreed that a teacher training video would be the most effective, consistent form of training. However, funding was immediately an issue, as the TTA made it clear they could not fund the project.
Due to constraints of funds and workload, Ms Millett suggested that we, The Left-Handers Club, would be best placed to produce the video which she would then assist in getting distributed to all Teacher Training Agencies in the UK.
Heartened by this response, if not by any financial commitment, Mark Stewart set about production of the first ever training video on teaching handwriting skills to left-handed children. Mark worked hard to secure outside funding via sponsorship from The Post Office and Berol.
In January 1997 the final brief for the video was publicly endorsed by Peter Luff MP.
Lauren Milsom submitted suggested wording for the guideline for inclusion in the SENCO standards as follows:
Special Educational Needs Co-Ordinators must be fully aware of the specific guidelines set out for teaching left-handed children in all areas of the curriculum but with particular attention to handwriting skills, to ensure that left-handed children develop a comfortable and efficient writing style through correct positioning and posture.â€
We then waited patiently whilst the SENCO standards were finalised. Unfortunately during the consultation period it was decided that it was unfair on all other special education needs for left-handedness to be specifically highlighted. It was therefore decided NOT to mention specific individual needs but would require teachers to identify pupils who may require special provision and prepare individual action plans as appropriate.
This would, of course, be completely useless for left-handed pupils since, without the relevant training in the first place, how would teachers recognise the needs of left-handed children, let alone how to accommodate them?
Our renewed arguments to Andrea Millett were met with the statement that they did not want to be too prescriptive at this stageâ€. As Mark Stewart stated in his response, if you cannot be prescriptive about such fundamental skills as handwriting and cutting for over 10% of the school population, what CAN you be prescriptive about?
Peter Luff MP, still committed to our cause, wrote to then PM Tony Blair, receiving a meaningless civil service speakâ€ response from Education Minister David Blunkett about all SEN’s being equally important. The decision by Anthea Millett of the TTA to label left-handed issues as a Special Educational Need had backfired and left us back at square one.
Undaunted, Mark Stewart decided to press ahead with the production of the training video for left handers and efforts for sponsorship. The video was finally launched in January 1999, sponsored by Berol Stationery and The Post Office.
Peter Luff MP continued his support in Parliament, tabling questions to the Minister for School Standards, Estelle Morris MP during the House of Commons Parliamentary questions. Mark Stewart and Lauren Milsom were invited to attend Parliament to hear the exchange from the Public Gallery as the Video was discussed in Parliament!
Mr Luff asked Ms Morris for her assessment of the video, which she confirmed would play a part in raising teachers’ awareness of the particular issues surrounding left-handed childrenâ€ and Will be of use both for the initial training and continuing professional development of teachersâ€
The TTA, on receipt of the video, confirmed their commitment to fund its distribution to all teacher training colleges in the country, which was met with relief by Mark Stewart of the LHC. However he voiced a note of caution stating:
We are concerned that there is still no specific requirement to include this subject as part of on-service teacher training. We believe it is vital that the video is seen by all teachers currently working with nursery and primary school children, otherwise left-handed children will continue to struggle and be disadvantaged by a lack of appropriate equipment and training for such fundamental skills as handwriting and cutting out.â€ He added “whilst making the video available to all trainee teachers is an excellent start, it does not reach all the teachers caring for our children at this moment.
The LHC continued our awareness campaign to encourage teachers to watch the video or attend our awareness talks to learn how to help their left-handed pupils. We also continued lobbying the TTA for information to be made available in the National Strategy for all teachers to read.
We were therefore delighted when the National Literacy Strategy (new guidelines for all teachers) was published in 2001 and included rudimentary but important specific requirements for the positioning and pen hold of left-handed children in order to develop good handwriting technique.
This strategy remained in print until 2004, and the National Literacy Strategy was replaced in June 2011 with online guidelines for teachers, which do still include a very basic paragraph on left handed children but may not be seen by many teachers.
Unfortunately, our feedback from trainee teachers now in 2012 would suggest that although our training video was distributed, it was not shown/used by any of the trainees we questioned. As there was no specific requirement to include this knowledge in their training, this is hardly surprising.
The current concern among LHC members and visitors to the Anything Left-Handed website shows that this issue is still very much a worry for parents and that left-handed children are still not receiving adequate instruction in handwriting. We feel that our campaign needs to be re-ignited, with the voice of parents to bring it to the attention of schools, teachers and education authorities once more.
May 1994 – LHC undertake larges ever study of left-handers and their families among it’s members. Results show worrying lack of support for left-handed children in schools, particularly with regard to handwriting technique.
July 1995 – Survey of primary schools in Hereford & Worcester conducted by Mark Stewart to establish awareness of left-handed requirements and provision for left-handers’ needs by teachers. Results show woeful inadequacy of awareness, understanding or support for left-handed pupils, particularly in regard to handwriting and cutting.
October 1995 – LHC launch campaign to highlight and improve needs of left-handed children in schools.
March 1996 – MP for Hereford & Worcester Mr Peter Luff shows his support for our campaign and joins our efforts to improve teaching standards in this area.
November 1996 – Mark Stewart & Lauren Milsom of LHC, and Mr Peter Luff M.P meet with Anthea Millett, Chief Executive of the Teacher Training Agency, who is most supportive of our cause and accepts the need for specific teaching for left-handers.
TTA suggestions at the meeting are:
- The LHC should produce a left-handed training video (at own cost) which TTA would distribute to all Teacher Training Agencies in the UK
- A statement be included in SENCO standards, directing that all SENCO’s should be aware of the needs of left-handed children and be trained in how to meet their needs
Brief for proposed training video finalised by Mark Stewart, and publicly endorsed by Peter Luff MP.
Suggested wording for the directive created by Lauren Milsom and submitted to the TTA officers engaged in drafting SENCO standards by Anthea Millett
May 1997 – Newly appointed Minister for Teacher Training, Estelle Morris confirms that new SENCO standards have been drafted and will NOT now mention specific individual needs i.e. those of left-handers.
9 March 1998 – The Times article reports on TTA backtracking and their decision that there will be no specific reference to left-handedness in SENCO guidelines.
May 1998 – Mark Stewart secures sponsorship for production and distribution of the LHC Training Video for aprox; £36,000 from Berol and The Post Office.
July 1998 – Filming begins on the LHC training video.
LHC launch training video Left-Handed Children – a Guide for Teachers and Parents with accompanying wall chart.
Chief Executive of the TTA described the video as An extremely useful resource both for the initial training and continuing professional development of teachers. We found it very informative and thought provoking. It raises some important concerns and will encourage teachers to recognise the left-handed issue.â€
Jan 1999 – Peter Luf MP tables questions during Parliamentary session directly with Estell Morris, Minister for School Standards requesting her assessment of the video, which she confirms will play a part in raising teachers’ awareness of the issues sorrunding left-handed childrenâ€
Feb 1999 – TTA funded distribution of the video to all providers of initial teacher training.
Mark Stewart welcomes this distribution but voices caution as there is still no directive for trainee teachers to be made aware of left-handers’ needs, nor is there any strategy in place for existing teachers to receive any training, or see the training video
March 1999 onwards – The LHC continue our campaign to raise awareness in schools of the issues surrounding left-handed children, and our desire for teachers already in schools to be trained in this important aspect of education.
2001: Guidelines specifically for helping left-handed children first published in The National Literacy Strategy – Developing Early Writing.
No we didn’t receive any specific training on how to teach left-handed children. During my teacher training course they advised us to use very similar techniques to teach both left and right handed children. Pencil grip was the same for both, as was letter formation. We were told to encourage children to hold the pencil in the hand they felt more comfortable with (we would test this by asking children to pick up objects at random to see which hand they used). In the case of left-handed children, we will sometimes turn the page at more of an angle to allow them more freedom of movement but generally, we just observe to see what comes naturally to the child and go from there.
The children I teach are all in the very first stages of writing and so it’s sometimes very difficult to determine when a child is struggling with pencil grip or when it’s just a case of motor control and development! In my previous school, I had two left-handed children in my class. The boy struggled with holding a pencil but the girl had very good motor control. In this case, we just encouraged the boy to do some fine-motor activities – puzzles, modelling, sticking and cutting, to develop his control but we did not offer him any specific activities or techniques for left-handed children.
To my knowledge (and for that of the staff who I have worked with) we use very generic techniques to teach both left and right handed children. However, I did go through my teacher training six years ago and it may have changed since, although I have never been offered a training day in this area. I think any advice or training in this area would benefit teachers and help them to understand and develop the children. I know I would be interested to learn more about left-handed methods and techniques.
Hope this isn’t too much waffle and makes some sense!