School brings back pens so pupils get write stuff

A PRIVATE school is insisting pupils use fountain pens, in an attempt to save the dying art of handwriting.

Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville junior school in Edinburgh believes longhand is on the brink of extinction, thanks to text messaging and computers.

Bryan Lewis, the school's headmaster, has banned the use of rollerball pens and pencils by pupils from P5 onwards. The school believes that mastering stylish handwriting with a fountain pen raises academic performance and boosts self-esteem.

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Mr Lewis believes the problem to be so acute that new staff often have to be given lessons in how to write before entering the classroom to teach.

The move comes after Scottish Qualifications Agency examiners said markers were encountering problems on exam papers due to illegible handwriting.

In an attempt to preserve the beauty and clarity of a well-drawn script, Mr Lewis has insisted that all older pupils compose all written work using a fountain pen, in which the flow of ink must be controlled to avoid smudges.

Mr Lewis said: "All teachers who join our junior school are taught a handwriting style by my colleagues and they, in turn, teach all our children the same style.

"Learning to write in fountain pen not only results in beautiful presentation but also has the not-insignificant bonus of developing children's self-esteem."

Fountain pens are regarded by many serious writers or artists to be the best tools for writing or drawing with ink on paper. However, they can be more expensive, harder to maintain and are more fragile than a ballpoint pen.

Mr Lewis believes handwriting is just one of the skills that has suffered as a result of the "progressive" teaching approach introduced in the 1970s.

He added: "Modern teaching methods overwhelmed the curriculum in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

"They proved to be no more than an excuse for the lowering of standards of basic literacy and numeracy under the guise of freedom of expression.

"From that time, generations of children were no longer taught to write properly."

Mr Lewis said his school was struggling to recruit teachers with a good command of grammar, spelling and punctuation.

He explained that most job applications he receives from young teachers are discounted because they are littered with mistakes.

He has now been forced to introduce refresher lessons in basic numeracy and literacy for new teachers before they are allowed to enter the classroom.

Mr Lewis said: "We have some fantastic young teachers now. But some of them will openly say that they need support from us for language skills because they came from the era when correct English was not a priority."

While modern standards of handwriting have dropped as a result of texting and e-mail, a similar problem occurred in the 16th and 17th century when handwriting became cramped and difficult to read as writers grew lazy on the knowledge that their finished work would be set in type, following the invention of the printing press.

The Headteachers' Association of Scotland believes handwriting skills should be taught as a "priority" as soon as children begin primary school.

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Real Education said: "Good spelling, handwriting, grammar and punctuation make for confident use of language and smooth communication."