Tuesday, June 13, 2006

UK: Plea for schools to improve pupils' handwriting

Children who are not taught to write properly at primary level will struggle at secondary school and university and are also likely to find their poor handwriting as much a handicap in the jobs market as poor reading and numeracy, according to a report out today. The study and survey from the Institute of Education found that few primary schools have consistent policies and practices to ensure children learn to write legibly, fluently and quickly. Even in this age of computer technology and an emphasis on keyboard skills, handwriting remains an essential skill for everyone, it says.

Researchers surveyed 39 large and small urban and rural primary schools in south-east England where pupils come from a wide range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. While most of the schools had a designated person responsible for handwriting and a written policy, a quarter had one without the other. Over half of the teachers surveyed felt they had not received sufficient training, while only one-third had been shown how to teach handwriting in their teacher training course.

Most schools taught handwriting as a separate subject, but less than half set aside time, the survey found. Only a fifth of schools with handwriting policies taught children ways of increasing their speed, which could affect their performance in exams. Only 45% communicated with parents about their methods of teaching handwriting or particular children's progress.

Some countries have a national style or model for teaching handwriting. But in England schools are free to select a style, with the only government recommendation being that it should "be easy to join later". More than half of teachers thought it would help to have a national style.

The report, Handwriting Policy and Practice in English Primary Schools, concludes: "This study echoes others in revealing an unhealthy variation between schools in the extent to which teaching policy has been explicitly formulated and applied to practice. If the national curriculum is to be commended for recognising the importance of handwriting, the absence of any detailed prescription is a matter for regret." A researcher, Rhona Stainthorp, said: "For many years, handwriting has been the Cinderella skill of literacy. The ability to handwrite legibly is not an optional extra; it is essential for everyone, even in this age of computer technology."


A victory over the Leftist destroyers of education

The West Australian Government abandoned its new gradeless schools curriculum yesterday, bowing to pressure from teachers and parents and promising to maintain real course content in place of ideological bent. In an embarrassing about-face, Premier Alan Carpenter announced the changes to the state's new-age "outcomes-based" education system after a morning crisis meeting with education leaders in his office. Mr Carpenter, flanked by his controversial Education Minister, Ljiljanna Ravlich, announced after the meeting that the new system would now maintain percentage marking of students.

His Government will give up its plan for an evaluation system based exclusively on eight "levels", in favour of the NSW system, which combines similar streaming of students but with traditional marking based on a percentage. It will introduce compulsory content in each of the 17 new courses to be introduced next year for Years 11 and 12, reviewing each one over the next few weeks. Teachers will be able to prepare examinations in the traditional fashion, rather than being forced to use those prepared by curriculum developers that require students to provide "values oriented" answers on ideological interpretations of their subjects.

Ms Ravlich told journalists that "about 85 to 90 per cent of content will be exactly the same" as current courses, and conceded that the outcomes-based plan was too ideologically driven. "Perhaps the direction we were moving in was a bit purist," Ms Ravlich said. She and Mr Carpenter insisted outcomes-based education would still be introduced next year, but conceded there would be adjustments. "We have listened to the teachers. We are responding to their concerns. We are simplifying the process of change and making it clearer to all concerned," the Premier said.

The Australian has exposed many of the deficiencies in the outcomes-based courses and the West Australian curriculum, including a move to allow Year 12 English students to analyse the squiggly lines used to draw Mr Messy in the Mr Men children's book series. The secretary of the Western Australian Independent Education Union, Theresa Howe, said the newspaper played an important role in forcing the Government to correct the problems. "It has had an impact," she said. "It has informed a wider audience. The Australian has a high degree of credibility."

The changes announced yesterday amount to a significant reversal. The current courses will be used as a template and only changed according to what teachers, educationalists and unions will accept. Education Department director-general Paul Albert told The Australian that the new curriculum would be introduced in a "transitional" fashion.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of Western Australia, Audrey Jackson, said she felt more confident after yesterday's meeting with the Premier and Ms Ravlich that courses would maintain a solid base. Ms Jackson, a chemistry teacher, said: "The emphasis will swing back towards the traditional form of chemistry, a mix of calculations, a display of knowledge of chemical processes."

Yesterday's backflip followed the intervention of Mr Carpenter to deal with a crisis that threatened to unhinge his Government, after Ms Ravlich failed to address the problem for months and refused to engage with teachers, unions, the media or the public. A weekend poll found 79 per cent of West Australians wanted the new curriculum delayed, and most respondents, by more than two to one, felt it risked "dumbing down" standards.

Opposition education spokesman Peter Collier said Mr Carpenter should have acted months ago to take the matter out of the hands of Ms Ravlich, who he said was "not up to the job". Ms Ravlich is the parliamentary leader of the increasingly influential Centre Left faction backed by construction union warlord Kevin Reynolds. Her boyfriend is the Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Eric Ripper. The president of the State School Teachers Union, Mike Keely, said the Government was finally listening. But he said the union directive not to teach the new courses unless teachers were comfortable with them would remain at least until the union's state council meets this weekend.


Comment by Kevin Donnelly:

Premier Alan Carpenter, whose other job is standing up for his Education Minister, should be thanked for backing down on the new West Australian senior school certificate. Providing teachers with a clear map on what is taught, as opposed to vague outcomes, ridding courses of political correctness in favour of essential academic content, and allowing teachers to mark out of 100 instead of grading on eight levels, represents positive change. But any praise should be muted. The Government has only acted out of self-interest -- after being in denial about the groundswell of public opposition to the certificate.

Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich as recently as two weeks ago said there was no place for compromise. Ravlich argued that the certificate was world's best practice. She said the Government would not back down on the basis that, to quote Hansard, "the responsibility of government is to put its policy position on the line and, basically, make sure that the policy is implemented".

Concerns about the Government's about-face are compounded by the fact schools that have been forced to implement the new courses this year - for example, English at Year 11 and Aviation at Year 12 - are now being told the curriculum approach is flawed. The Government has refused to budge from its position that the certificate be implemented next year, triggering doubts over whether there is enough time to review all courses and ensure that teachers are ready to teach the certificate at the start of next year.

Critics of outcomes-based education may have won the battle, but not the war. Teachers in primary and lower secondary schools are still being forced to implement an outcomes-based approach. If outcomes-based education has failed at Years 11 and 12, why is it being forced on younger students?


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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