Expectations for handwriting: you’re write to be confused!

    Published: 09 February 2017

    Sabrina Wright is a Teaching and Learning Adviser for English at Herts for Learning.

    Following on from my last blog, where I unpicked the KS1 exemplification materials and moderation guidance, I felt the urge to spend a little of my time considering the handwriting element of the Interim Teacher Assessment Frameworks (ITAFs) against the National Curriculum (NC) expectations.

     I have recently had a number of colleagues -teachers and SLs – ask me to clarify what exactly the ITAF statement:  ‘using the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters in some of their writing’ means.  The question they have asked is, ‘Does this statement mean that children are expected to join or not?’  At first I thought this was very simple, but whilst writing this blog I have realised that this is not the case.  I’ve unpicked the range of guidance out there and will try to clarify which, at this time, we might want to be paying most attention to.

    The sensible place, in my mind, to begin was with the NC.  For Y2 it states the following (statutory):

    Pupils should be taught to:

    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 unjointed

    At first glance, the NC doesn’t seem to give us much more information than the ITAF does, but if you continue to read on in the notes and guidance (non-statutory) it says, ‘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.’    Given that throughout KS1 children have been focusing on forming letters correctly, this to me would imply that although it is not an expectation that every Y2 child will be joining their handwriting, there will be children who are beginning to join in Y2.  In addition to this, the Y3/4 notes and guidance (non-statutory) state that, ‘Pupils should be using joined handwriting throughout their independent writing’.  Surely if that is the expectation in Y3/4 then at Y2 children should be beginning to join their letters? It may not be joined throughout all of their independent writing and may not be 100% accurate, but I think there would be some evidence of letters being joined.  

    However, if you wanted to take the NC statement very literally, it could be interpreted as meaning that a child is only required to demonstrate the strokes needed to join writing e.g. if children have been taught to end their letter formations with the required flicks, that would then evolve into joining at a later stage.  How you interpret the NC statements is likely to influence your view of what the ITAF requirements are.

    So what does the ITAF have to offer?

    As in 2016, pupils can be awarded the ‘working towards the expected standard’ (WTS) or ‘working at the expected standard’ (EXS) if their writing does not evidence one, or more than one, of the handwriting statements. However, to be awarded the ‘greater depth standard’ (GDS) at the end of KS1, pupils must meet all of the statements relating to handwriting from both the EXS and GDS. standard.

    Working at the expected standard states the following:

    • using the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters in some of their writing
    • writing capital letters and digits of the correct size, orientation and relationship to one

    another and to lower case letters

    • using spacing between words that reflects the size of the letters

    In the GDS it states that a child should be, ‘using the diagonal and horizontal strokes needed to join letters in most of their writing.’  Therefore, the only difference between this statement and the EXS statement is the word most.   Remembering the qualifier ‘most’ is defined as, the statement is generally met with only occasional errors’ in the guidance and ITAF documents.  Again, if you take the above statements literally, you could interpret them as meaning that a child is only required to demonstrate the strokes needed to join writing e.g. if children have been taught to end their letter formations with the required flicks, that would evolve into joining at a later stage.  

    Straight back to the exemplification materials with my magnifying glass! The detail for these documents states that, ‘If teachers are confident in their judgements, they do not need to refer to the exemplification materials. The exemplification materials are there to help teachers make their judgements where they want additional guidance.’  So in theory, I could completely ignore what they demonstrate and go with the literal interpretation of the statement.  However, I just couldn’t do that I’m afraid.   So here goes… if you look at the EXS exemplification materials, the child does not join at all.  It is completely printed – not a single tick in the table provided at the back as a check-list.   Those bullets are not required for EXS anyway, so that is fine. I’m happy with that.

    However, in the GDS exemplification materials, in the first piece of evidence about 50% of the words are accurately joined; 50% have some letters joined and in the remaining pieces of evidence there is much greater accuracy throughout.  The comment on the first piece of evidence does in fact say that, ‘diagonal and horizontal strokes are used to join some letters’, but it is ticked in the GDS table as meeting the expectation. All the other pieces in the collection say joined handwriting is used ‘consistently’ and are also ticked in the table. Does this therefore mean that pupils working at GDS should be joining?  

    We can definitely conclude that in order to be judged as EXS, a child could show absolutely no signs of beginning to join.  Unfortunately, the GDS evidence muddies the water a little.  The short answer to our question is that this is still a little unknown, and could definitely be down to interpretation.

    As we know, the ITAFs do not include full coverage of the content of the NC as it focuses on key aspects for assessment purposes only.  However, I’ve always felt that the GDS ITAF statements/exemplification materials exemplify the NC expectation for Y2 fully, whereas the EXS ITAF statements/exemplification materials don’t.  With this in mind, I would like to think that at GDS pupils should be expected to begin to join their letters; in the same way as I would like to interpret that as the expectation in the NC.

    I suppose to put it bluntly, if you want your children to scrape by, then interpreting the handwriting statements as meaning that a child is only required to demonstrate the strokes needed to join writing, is fine.  In reality, they could be, and that would be okay. It would almost be the minimum expectation at GDS.  I cannot at all blame anyone for doing this – particularly if the child is on the borderline of EXS and GDS, but to be honest I think it’s unlikely that you’ll see children producing writing that demonstrates strokes without joining when it’s actually much easier to start joining. If you want to push them further, expecting them to begin joining letters in Y2 would be just grand!

    One other thing to consider would be what evidence of handwriting at greater depth would look like.  Whether or not it is joined, is down to your interpretation, but we do have some further guidance as to what evidence is acceptable for pupils working at GDS in the recent teacher assessment moderation: requirements for key stage 1.  It states that, ‘handwriting books or handwriting exercises can provide evidence of pupils’ independent application of handwriting. However, there must be evidence that all handwriting statements are met in some pieces of independent writing.’  Again, if we consider the qualifier ‘some’ which is defined as, ‘the skill/knowledge is starting to be acquired, and is demonstrated correctly on occasion, but is not consistent or frequent’ and apply.  Would you award me GDS or EXS?


    Letters are not joined but have the lead ins and flicks


    2 different styles completely joined


    GDS exemplification piece 1


    GDS exemplification piece 2

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