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Are left handed children being let down at school?

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The Latin word for being `left handed` is Sinestro - a term which hardly carries complementary connotations. The early ancient Greek word for left means awkward, an ill-omen - while in many modern languages (English for example) right synonymously means correct: indeed - righteous.

As recently as the 1980`s many teachers would try to `correct` students who had the temerity, or perhaps only the carelessness, to write with their left hand. A friend of mine who went to school around this time said her teacher would strike her left hand with a ruler, whenever her pen happened to be there.

It is now understood that forcing a child to change their dominant hand can have an number of negative side effects, and (hopefully) the practice of so called `correction` has been expunged from the education system.

Perhaps equality of handedness in the classroom has not yet been attain though - campaigners have recently claimed education ministers have not fully addressed the struggles left handed children face. They have said that children are `still penalised` for being left-handed, and have requested that they are given specific teaching to assist them.

The most well known scholastic problem a left handed child faces is with handwriting - going from left to right over the page means that they both smudge what their have just written, while also obscuring their freshly penned words. This was likely more of a problem in the past though, when children were writing with fountain pens - the slow drying ink would take some time to dry, and pupils would be compelled to contort their hands as they wrote, dodging the words they had just written. In these days of biros and rollerballs the ink can be dry almost as soon as it touches the page. Penmanship itself may soon be a thing of the past of course, as we far more likely to use a keyboard (which is indifferent to handedness) than pen and paper. Calligraphy is fast becoming a lost art.

Sir Peter Luff, former Conservative Minister has said `It`s bizarre kids in our schools are penalised because they happen to be left-handed. It`s bewildering successive governments have failed to act on this. It`s so easy to do. It`s about where you sit kids in class, how they hold their pen, it`s really easy and nothing happens.`

The minister is himself left handed, and has suggested that the teacher training syllabus should include techniques on helping left handed pupils.

`It`s about where you sit kids in class, how they hold their pen, it`s really easy and nothing happens. It`s bizarre kids in our schools are penalised because they happen to be left-handed. It`s bewildering successive governments have failed to act on this.`

Mark Stewart has helped thousands of children via his Left `n` Write company, which sells a smorgasbord of left handed stationary to individuals as well as schools across the United Kingdom, while also offering training to teachers. He has expressed his frustration with the indifference of the education sector over this issue.

`The Department for Education cannot speak with authority it has no numbers on how many children are left-handed, no way of knowing if it has any impact on likely educational attainment.`

It is estimated that around 10% of the population are left handed. The Department of Education does not currently record comprehensive statistics, since it is not considered a disability. Interestingly it has been claimed that the percentage of prison inmates who are left handed may be as much as 20%. Of course this is not to suggest that the Latin term `Sinestro` is apposite after all - rather that, in Mark Stewart`s words:;

`Early years education where children are struggling, making a mess of handwriting, they think this is a pain, no one knows how to sort it, they get low marks, low self-esteem, does it get in to a downward spiral?`

Perhaps we are in the last generation of these problems. Many pupils already use computer keyboards in the classroom - not to mention typing up homework and coursework. When I was a teacher I was always relieved when presented with a clear and perfectly legible Times New Roman font to read and grade, rather than spidery cursive that sometimes reached into the illegible realms of hieroglyphs! Of course being left handed must not be any impediment to a child`s learning - and if a study can demonstrably show that this 10% are being let down, then action must be taken.

10 months ago
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