Children's writing skills decline for a second year

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The Independent Online

Writing standards among seven-year-olds have fallen for the second year in succession, according to test results published yesterday.

The figures have prompted concerns that the new generation of youngsters are learning so-called "texting" skills instead of mastering the basics of grammar and punctuation. In addition, teachers' leaders and academics are warning they are being pushed into learning the three Rs at too early an age – and becoming frustrated when they cannot master them.

Figures for this year's test results show the percentage of youngsters reaching the required standard in the reading and maths test remain the same as last year – at 84 per cent and 90 per cent respectively.

The figure for writing has dropped by one percentage point – for the second year in a row – to 80 per cent.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "I think youngsters are learning a different culture of writing nowadays. It is all about writing "cu2nite" rather than writing it out."

Children are being taught to use texting shorthand at home – instead of developing writing skills, he argued.

Mr Brookes also called for a review of testing, claiming that the writing test was pitched at a higher level than reading.

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment at the University of Buckingham, added: "The possibility is that we are teaching writing skills too early. It is too soon as youngsters don't have the motor skills and dexterity to write properly. As a result, they produce untidy work and they feel, 'I can't do this' and are put off it for the future."

He called on the UK to follow in the footsteps of other European countries – such as Denmark and Sweden – which delayed the introduction of formal education until the age of six.

The results showed girls doing better than boys in every test. In writing, they showed that only 75 per cent of boys reached the required standard – compared with 86 per cent of girls. The Schools minister Lord Adonis said: "We must do more to raise standards even further, especially in writing.

David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on children, schools and families, said: "It is a national disgrace that one in four boys don't even have the most basic writing skills aged seven."

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