Ofsted and a million silent children - thoughts from left field

Image credit: Unsplash

Image credit: Unsplash

A school to call my own

If I were Christian or Muslim or Jewish, if I were black or Asian, LGBT or disabled, or if I were a traveller, I would be protected under the law.  No-one could legally discriminate against me and though, sadly, they would, I would have some redress under the law.  But I am part of a silent minority.  I am left handed.

“So?” you say, and by that I know that you are right handed.

When I was a child, my teacher noted my ability to cut out shapes with greater dexterity than my classmates.  The lesson was paused and the class stood by to observe my enviable pint-sized skill.  My classmates returned to their desks and raised their scissors ready to employ their new-found understanding of the complexities of cutting out and …

… my teacher learned she had a lefty in the class.  

Now I’m not living my life entirely as though I just picked up the scissors in my right hand, but I am most certainly living in a right-handed world.

Some aspects of being left handed have improved enormously over the past two decades: from kettles to telephones, cordless equipment has simplified left-handed life.  While other technology has come into being still without consideration for the left-handed – computer keyboards, some smartphones, self-service checkouts.  I remain loyal to the bank that has cheque books equally accessible to all customers - no special request required.

Spotting a left-hander in a classroom, I have flashbacks of smudged work and agonising scissors moulded for right hands.  So I looked it up; how has education changed for the left-hander?  Well, there’s been an extensive survey by Left Handed Children and the range of specialist products improves all the time (I even spotted a section devoted to left-handers in my local Staples recently), and there was an education conference back in 2010, but there is still nothing built into the education to support left-handed children.  I have never seen “support for left-handers” on a school website.

There is no specific guidance or training for teachers taking the PGCE.  They are not even made aware of products such as pencils with a left grip or left-handed rulers – “one of the pots has some left-handed scissors” is about as good as you get!  So teachers, even the very best ones who have noticed and equipped their classrooms with left-handed scissors, still have no intellectual tools with which to manage the problems faced by this small but significant group of pupils. 

There is evidence that left-handed pupils can write so much more slowly than others that they are mistaken for pupils with learning difficulties.  But think about it, for every pen stroke you make pulling a pen gently along the page, we are driving the nib along the page.  We are the snow ploughs, not the skiers. And, possibly as a result of this, we earn less than right-handers over our lifetimes.

It’s not to say that we don’t do well in the end.  Indeed, we are thought, as a group, to be good at “thinking outside the box” and to be creative, and if you want to be president of the US (most recently Bush, Clinton and Obama) or a great artist (think Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Picasso) it seems your odds are greatly increased if you are left handed, but the early days can be hard.  

So how about a school to call our own?  Is it not time for us to have left-handed primary schools?

One in ten pupils is left handed.  What if one in ten primary schools were left handed?  The schools would be open to pupils of other denominations (right-handers and the ambidextrous), just as church-affiliated primaries are open to pupils of all religions, but the assumption would be that pupils are left handed and the teaching and equipment would reflect it. 

Meanwhile, we would like to see Ofsted and ISI consider left-handers in their reports beyond a nod to "the use of left-handed tools”.  Left-handed pens and rulers are great, but we also need to learn how to use right-handed equipment and for our peers and teachers to be more tolerant.  We don't need to be taught to use left-handed equipment, as one teacher put it to me, any more than right-handers need to be taught to use right-handed tools.  What a left-handed child needs is a teacher that notices where they are struggling, a teacher who has a mental inventory of available equipment, and a teacher who understands how a right-brained child might be thinking.  Surely a million primary pupils merit at least a bullet point in the Ofsted inspection manual?

Are your children left handed?  Is their education tailored to their needs?  Let us know what you think.