"As soon as we saw the information that came from a quick 30 minute assessment, we were astounded. The teachers could not believe what the data told them about the children's handwriting issues and what needed to be done. This was information that for some of us with 20 plus years of experience, we had never had before!" Fiona Cowan, Headteacher.

A Derbyshire Head Teacher has delivered an explosive talk, on the negative and previously unknown effects of hypermobility on children’s ability to hold a pencil correctly. Going further to say that all teachers must be trained to assess for it, to ensure their pupils are given the right tools and methods to learn to write with.  Her message underlined that too many children associate handwriting with pain because they have hypermobility in their fingers and a simple assessment will enable teachers to spot the tell-tale signs and deal with it sooner!

Previous research has stated that only one in ten individuals present Hypermobility Syndrome but new evidence is now emerging that up to 90% of primary school children assessed, present hypermobility in finger joints. 

A quick online search on Hypermobility reads, ‘The joint hypermobility syndrome is a condition that features joints that easily move beyond the normal range expected for that particular joint. Hypermobile joints tend to be inherited. Symptoms of the joint hypermobility syndrome include pain in the knees, fingers, hips, and elbows.’

Miss Fiona Cowan, Headteacher of Bolsover Infants and Pre-School, spoke with the Headteachers attending the BEST Event in Derbyshire, about OFSTED’s directive that all children should be taught how to hold a pencil correctly by the end of Reception and explained that she has been trained to assess her pupils' pencil grip, alongside their handwriting ability, using an innovative assessment which has not only helped to transform handwriting in her school but has also resulted in her entire teaching team now trained to assess their pupils’ pencil grip and potential barriers to learning to write well.

Handwriting Specialist, Melanie Harwood, explains that the high percentage of children presenting with hypermobility has been an interesting discovery after thousands of childrens' handwriting was assessed in primary schools up and down the country.  “We simply didn’t have the evidence before to show us the pencil grips that children were using, nor whether they were able to hold a pencil correctly. When the data from the Handwriting Match Fit Assessment was being uploaded into the participating schools' data tracking software, it jumped out at us that the sheer scale of children with hypermobility was something that had us all sitting up and questioning if teachers were aware of the potential pain and discomfort it can cause those children when holding a “normal” pencil."

Bolsover Infants and Pre-School’s Literacy Lead, Ms Sarah Cooper, the first Handwriting Specialist Teacher in Derbyshire, says that she was shocked when she first saw her pupils’ handwriting assessment results and decided the only way to turn it around was to train all the school’s teachers how to assess each child’s handwriting abilities and pencil grip.  She explained, “Being trained to assess every aspect of each child’s handwriting to this level ensures our team not only have the evidence to prove that each pupil is on track to achieving the expected handwriting literacy outcomes but also to keep evidence as to which children may have hypermobility in their joints which could negatively impact on their ability to hold a pencil correctly. By assessing potential barriers to learning to write well and holding a pencil correctly, we ensure that all our pupils will write well and that no child will fall through the net."

Miss Fiona Cowan has set up the Handwriting Excellence Initiative, with ten primary schools that form the Bolsover Literacy Hub in Derbyshire, tapping into a recently launched sponsorship of 100 UK Primary School Early Years Departments (A Write Good Gift 2018 Sponsorship), to ensure that each participating school’s Literacy Lead is trained to deliver the Handwriting Assessment to all their pupils. She insists this is the very best way to assess for hypermobility sooner and to make sure all teachers are trained to spot the signs that show some children may have potential barriers that could impact on their ability to write well in the future. “By knowing what to look for and using the Handwriting Assessment, we now keep evidence of each child’s pencil grip and we look at how best to ensure they achieve the correct pencil grip to ensure it is no longer a painful experience for them.  We are aware that those children feeling pain in their fingers when writing, could develop an aversion to writing because they want to avoid that pain at all costs.  They simply need to be taught how to hold their pencil correctly or use a pencil that is specifically designed for those with hypermobility in their joints."

Melanie Harwood explains, “Children who write well achieve better academic results and all schools are now expected to ensure their pupils write legibly and fluently! OFSTED and the Department for Education expect much higher standards from schools when it comes to handwritten work.  But I don’t think they, themselves, understand why so many children are struggling to write well and if they saw the results of the thousands of children assessed, they would insist every school does this at least twice a year to stamp out functional illiteracy."

Occupational Therapist and Autism Specialist, Denise Meissner, concurs, “If we want our children to perform well in school today and in life tomorrow, we must give them the most important skills they will need to problem solve, innovate and collaborate. Handwriting is one of those critical skills. The physical act of forming letters and working one’s way from one side of a page to the other side activates and links various parts of the brain. This activation and linking is what our brains need in order to perform at the highest levels. Interesting to note, according to research presented by Andreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills for the OECD, strong predictors of a child’s performance in Math, Reading and Science include parent involvement, classroom disciplinary climate, low teacher turnover rate, and pupil behaviour. However, neither high computer-to-pupil ratio nor parent income is linked to increase in pupil performance! This is very exciting news because it means we can and must focus on proper handwriting instruction, undivided attention between teachers, their carers and pupils, using handwriting challenges to identify and correct for signs of underlying health issues, and to increase joyful learning and life events.”

The eLearning Handwriting Match Fit Assessment Training is available exclusively from   The Handwriting Match Fit Assessment® makes it possible to quickly assess each pupil's handwriting in under an hour to clearly highlight the strategy required to raise each pupil's Literacy Outcomes.

Video - Fiona Cowan, Head Teacher, Bolsover Infants and Pre-School, talks about Hypermobility and Handwriting Assessment in Primary Schools

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About Harwood Education Ltd

Harwood Education,delivers innovative and outstanding education Resources, Programmes, Training and Learning Schemes to the entirety of the education sector as well as the home learning sector.
Created by Melanie Harwood – Education Specialist, Denise Meissner – Occupational Therapist and Autism Specialist , Jonathan Harwood – World Renowned Cameraman and Educational Filmmaker. It serves the education sector, and represents educational creatives and “education disruptors” worldwide, including manufacturers and distributors of equipment, materials, books, consumables, furniture, technology, ICT hardware and EdTech.