Handwriting: My bad reputation! – by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor @ottleyoconnor

The recent appointment of a new Literacy Team of leaders gave me the opportunity to re-visit some of the issues & demons related to my own handwriting and experience of literacy learning during my primary years.

mini pat 1

I was prompted to write this my second blog as a result of reading this recent blog by @jeanetteww

I was also prompted to blog (again) by @MartynReah @rondelle10_b #teacher5aday29dayswriting & colleagues driving the #teacher5aday movement.

A renewed focus on literacy at the academy resulted in discussions with colleagues about handwriting & presentation that were wide ranging, in-depth and often passionate. A main theme discussed was the balance between appearance (neatness, legibility, style) vs the content (quality, accuracy, subject knowledge), as well as students writing the expected amount at a sufficient pace.

This led to discussions about the most basic need of any reader ie that s/he is able to at least read the writing. In short, we agreed that teachers need to be able to read their students’ writing & the students’ need to be able to read their teachers’ writing.

As a child, I was always a happy, positive, caring and well behaved boy; however, I had a bad reputation at primary school for my handwriting! All I knew about my work at primary school was that I was judged by the appearance of my handwriting. As a child, technology for handwriting did not exist, unless you count the hi-tech ‘etch-a-sketch’! Word processing, tablets, typing, voice recognition, etc were not an alternative option to replace the use of a pen and paper in the late 1960s- early 1970s. 

As an adult, the thought of using my writing to express my creativity and personality, as a part of my identity, or experiencing the joy of giving/receiving a handwritten letter simply drags up painful memories of my early writing experience. My ‘blogaphobia’  resulted in me taking over 5 months to write a first blog & is a hang-up from my nightmarish handwriting infancy! 

I’ve never found writing things down very easy. It will be no surprise to those who know me that I always contributed to class discussions; however, I slowed right down when I had to write. At school, my teachers could choose to have me write at speed or they could have me write neatly, but not both together. In my primary experience, good handwriting and a culture of caring for work only existed for my ‘clever’ friends and in my experience most girls in my class!

I have many memories of writing trauma, but offer the following two examples to highlight my childhood plight.

Mini pat 2

During year 4 (called J2 41 years ago) I wrote a piece of poetry about the building of the new Humber Bridge. It was decided that it would was good enough to have pride of place on the wall at the front of the classroom. I proudly showed my mum the displayed piece of work when she visited the classroom on parents evening. She smiled & said that she loved it. I remember that she had tears in her eyes. As a result, I also remember it as the first time I’d ever felt really proud of a piece of my written work. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when recounting this story that my mum disclosed that the reason that she had fought back the tears was because my poem had been rewritten by a girl in my class as my handwriting was deemed too scruffy. At the time I thought that this was a normal thing for someone to do!

As a y6 I watched all of my classmates move on from writing with a pencil to being presented with a pen in the special Friday afternoon ceremonies. This meant that they had graduated to adult (or at least secondary ready) writing. As the weeks rolled by, all of my friends made the grade until the Easter break when everyone had made it…everyone apart from me! 

Eventually, two weeks before we left for big school, I was presented with my pen. I didn’t get the ceremony & I was told that I needed a pen to practice before I left school.

Fortunately, my friend’s mum (a teacher) spent time with me in the summer holidays to teach me some basic joined up writing skills with my pen before I embarked on my secondary school adventure. However, I had already been placed in the bottom stream (class 12/13) due to my low ability! Inflexible secondary streaming will probably be the focus of another cathartic blog.

These issues ultimately fuelled my strong moral purpose and drive to challenge inequality and support all learners to achieve their potential. 

I subscribe to the @FutureLeaders mantra of #highexpectations #noexcuses #noexceptions and strive to ensure that no child is left behind.  I champion all aspects of literacy to ensure that learners who have fallen behind are quickly identified and targeted to catch up & keep up at the earliest opportunity. 

I still struggle to write and often quip that my typing is much neater than my writing. I do try to model quick & neat writing with students, but still avoid it, or at least concentrate to do it correctly! 

Thankfully, we now have some great technologies to help make my writing more legible & allow me to write at greater speed. 


Patrick Ottley-O’Connor

Collaborative Leadership Ltd

Twitter: @ottleyoconnor


One thought on “Handwriting: My bad reputation! – by Patrick Ottley-O’Connor @ottleyoconnor

  1. Thanks for sharing Patrick. It’s a powerful reminder that what we say and do can have an impact on children into their adult lives. I remember when was in year 8 a DT teacher asked me why a rats tail file was called that. I froze and was unable to answer but he wouldn’t move on and I felt completely stupid. That was nearly 40 years ago and I can still remember how I felt! Look forward to the next blog.


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