Each Australian states specifies its own handwriting style for schools, and they are all based on progressive modern cursive writing.
In Australia, states and territories are responsible for delivering school education, including operation of government schools, and regulation of all schools. Funding is provided by the national, as well as state and territory governments, and all governments work together through the National Cabinet to decide the national education policy. It is compulsory for children to start school by the age of six, and since 2010, it has also been mandatory for them to complete Year 10 (15–16 years old).
All provincial governments agreed to a national curriculum in 2008, and consequently the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), an independent statutory authority tasked with the development of the national curriculum, was established. ACARA released the first version in 2010, and states and territories work with schools to implement the national curriculum. In April 2022, Version 9.0 was approved, after a deliberation and review process that included an open public consultation.
Based on the national curriculum, students are taught both handwriting and typing using the keyboard (“keyboarding”). In Year 1 (6–7 years old), they are taught to produce simple handwriting movements. By Year 5 (10-11 years old), they learn to write clearly formed unjoined letters in both cases. In Year 6 (11-12 years old), students can draw joined letters, including sloping them, if that is applicable to the style. Finally, students should have a fluent, legible, personal handwriting style in Year 7 (12-13 years old).
Even though progressive modern cursive styles of handwriting are taught throughout Australia, each state teaches its own version (called “script”), and state-level departments of education offer guidelines, and in some cases resources, for handwriting instruction.
Around the beginning of the 20th century, handwriting styles and copy books in Australia were similar to the ones prevalent in the UK. The country’s influence on handwriting teaching in Australia continued with the emphasis on Tom Gourdie, and the push for different regions to adopt approaches based on his work.
The influence of Tom Gourdie
In Australia, progressive modern cursive writing is the most prevalent style for handwriting instruction in school, even though shapes of the letterforms can vary from region to region.
The adoption of this approach can be traced back to 1990, when the Australian Education Council (AEC), an erstwhile voluntary educational body with no statutory authority, recommended that all schools in the country should adopt a handwriting style based on Scottish calligrapher Tom Gourdie’s Simple Modern Hand. The AEC advocated for a consistent style in handwriting instruction across the country so students relocating across states and territories would not face difficulties.
Sample pages of The Ladybird book of Handwriting. Gourdie, Tom, 1968. Wills & Hepworth, London.
Simple Modern Hand is a three-stage progressive approach — first, students work with simplified print letters; then, they trace letters with small exit strokes; and finally, following the principles of modern italics, they join some lower cases letters while others remain disconnected. It was seen as an improvement because students didn’t need to learn two discreet styles of handwriting. Before the introduction of a progressive system, students were first taught upright, ball-and-stick style manuscript letters in Year 1 and then introduced to sloped cursive writing two years later.
Gourdie’s works emerged from a movement in the UK in the 1960s that promoted the use of italic handwriting in the country. At its forefront was the Society of Italic Handwriting, and Gourdie (1913–2005) was among its leaders along with the Reginald Piggot (1930–2014) and the society’s founder Alfred Fairbank (1895–1982).