Students begin learning handwriting in Year 1 and by Year 3, they are expected to have fluent and legible handwriting. They are taught according to a progressive handwriting system outlined in a Ministry of Education publication.
In New Zealand, the education system is organised as follows: early education is from birth till entry age; followed by primary education from Year 1 to Year 8 (around 5–12 years old), and secondary education from Year 9 to Year 13 (around 13–17 years old), followed by higher and vocational education. School is compulsory for children aged 6–16 years old, and free for 5–19 year olds at state-run schools.
While there is a national curriculum in the country, only state-integrated schools, which have their own aims and objectives apart from the national curriculum, and charge compulsory attendance dues, and state-owned and funded schools are required to follow it. Private schools, which may receive government funds, but are largely supported by fees, don’t have to follow the national curriculum and can develop their own learning programmes.
According to The Literacy Learning Progressions, a professional tool provided to support the curriculum by a Ministry of Education initiative, after Year 1, students should be able to form all uppercase and lowercase letters and numerals correctly; after Year 2, they should be able to form the same letters correctly with increasing speed and automaticity; and after Year 3, they should be writing all upper-case and lower-case letters correctly, legibly, and fluently.
The style of handwriting currently taught in New Zealand is specified in Teaching Handwriting, a Ministry of Education publication, which was developed in response to teachers’ request for guidance on the style of handwriting that should be taught in primary school. Teachers and schools usually create their own resources for handwriting instruction based on the style advocated in this document. It was first released in 1985, and again in digital format in 2008. Even though Teaching Handwriting outlines a progressive handwriting system that advances from simplified print script to cursive writing, sometimes teachers will not teach the latter if it is not practical given the learning levels and other curriculum needs of their students.
A progressive approach to handwriting education
Teaching Handwriting outlines a progressive system, comprising the “basic script” that is slanted with unjoined simplified print letters, and a cursive style of the “basic script” that is partially joined and emphasises speed and fluency. Both styles have the same slope, and forego ornamentation, and features like loops. The document highlights that this system is a means to build a foundation upon which students can develop their own individual handwriting.
This approach to handwriting instruction draws directly from the works of Christopher Jarman and Tom Gourdie, who championed the simple modern style, a progressive and semi-joined cursive model, in England. In New Zealand, Jarman and Gourdie’s books are also recommended as guides to teachers.
Developed to fill the knowledge vacuum among teachers about the appropriate style of handwriting that should be taught in schools, work on Teaching Handwriting began in 1976. Trials were conducted in schools with drafts of the resource, and they were also discussed with teachers, inspectors, advisers, and teachers’ college lecturers. In 1980, a draft and related questionnaire was shared with all schools, and responses from teachers helped form the final version of the document. It was first released in 1985, and a digital version was published for the Ministry of Education by Learning Media Limited in 2008.