Ofsted ‘inconsistent’ on handwriting rules

Ofsted has been accused of a “lack of consistency” on handwriting after academics claimed it has affected inspection results in some schools.

The chair of the National Handwriting Association, Angela Webb, says headteachers have reported poor handwriting affecting their Ofsted grade.

But analysis by Schools Week using Watchsted, a website that extracts words from Ofsted reports, shows that at least eight primary schools that were criticised for pupils’ handwriting in the past two years were still rated as outstanding overall.

Ms Webb told Schools Week: “I think there may be no consistency in Ofsted practice in this respect.

“We are often approached by schools who say things like ‘we would have received outstanding rather than good had our handwriting been better’.

“Perhaps there are regional variations and we ought to lobby for more inspectors taking this [harder] line, particularly in the light of the proposals for 2016 that at key stage 2 texts cannot be awarded the highest standard if handwriting is poor, even where all other aspects of writing are above average.”

Professor Rhona Stainthorp of the University of Reading – who specialises in phonics and handwriting – backed up Ms Webb’s comments, adding that handwriting “has not been on [the] Ofsted agenda”.

The watchdog has defended its practices claiming consistency is maintained “at the very highest level”.

A spokesperson said: “As part of the judgment on the overall quality of teaching in primary schools, inspectors consider whether the teaching of handwriting is effective and whether pupils apply the skills they have learned across the curriculum. Inspectors may also consider the tidiness of pupils’ work and the pride they show in its presentation.

“Consistency is maintained at the very highest level in our inspection practice through a wide range of mechanisms and quality assurance. Where schools are awarded a lower grade, this will be down to a number of factors about the school and its performance. It would not be a reflection of a single matter such as handwriting.”

The Schools Week’s analysis follows a roundtable meeting organised by stationers Bic and PR agency Lucre to discuss the future of handwriting.

Charlotte Clowes, deputy headteacher at St Alban’s School in Cheshire, told the meeting that “lots of teachers” would welcome the opportunity for more professional development and the ability to “feel more confident” in teaching handwriting.

Melanie Harwood, founder of the handwriting tuition firm Start-Bee, called for a “cohesive effort” in schools with teachers all using a “set method” in their teaching.

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