Why perfect handwriting like Princess Charlotte’s will earn you parental bragging rights

Your child’s cursive script could be key in getting entry to top schools, but there’s one contentious issue. Here’s how to give them a hand

By Susie Mesure
16 March 2021

If your darling child’s attempts to master French still sound like double Dutch, while their portraits are more Pollock than Picasso, there is a simpler solution to getting them ahead in time for the next round of entrance admissions. So simple, they won’t even need any special equipment, although who doesn’t love the excuse for some new stationery?

Even a five-year-old child could master it, as Princess Charlotte showed when she wrote a Mother’s Day card to her deceased grandmother, Princess Diana. Yes, the secret key to unlocking alpha child status is handwriting, specifically, of the cursive variety, complete with loops, flicks and something the mini royal will know are called “lead ins” or “entry strokes”.

“I am thinking of you on Mother’s Day. Papa is missing you,” wrote Princess Charlotte. But for all those cooing over its heartfelt clarity, possibly more were analysing the skill required to produce such clear, evenly sized lettering that ran horizontally across the page despite the lack of guidelines. There were fingers spaces, capitals, even punctuation. And all from a child in Year 1.

Princess Charlotte handwriting

Of Princess Charlotte’s handwriting, one expert says, “It’s neat but she might find it hard to maintain when she needs to speed up.”

With no national approach to penmanship – unlike the French, whose swooping script sings its Gallic-ness louder than a rugby team singing the Marseillaise before kickoff, or the Finns, who have dropped the teaching of cursive writing entirely – in England it is up to each school how it opts to teach handwriting.

Some, like Kensington Prep, in west London, start with pre-cursive in Reception: that’s the so-called “lead in and flick” that gets the letters ready to join up: for a perfect demonstration, see how Princess Charlotte wrote “on” with a tiny gap between each letter. From Year 1, pupils at the £5,955-a-term prep school join their letters in what’s called continuous cursive: all internal assessments are partly based on their ability to write legibly.

Handwriting at school

Princess Charlotte makes it look easy, but handwriting requires practice.

Other schools, like Lambrook, in Bracknell, which takes children from age three to 13 (where fees are £6,232 per term), teach cursive from nursery, ready for handwriting competitions and challenges by the time the children get to Prep school, the goal being a “pen licence” and permission to write with a fountain pen.

While Princess Charlotte makes it look easy, the path to perfect handwriting isn’t always straightforward, not least because even handwriting teachers disagree on the best way to teach lettering. “The decision whether to use entry strokes or not is of huge contention,” says Amanda McLeod, of the National Handwriting Association, and author of publishing giant Scholastic’s handwriting skills series – which doesn’t use the extra flicks leading into each letter.

Learning handwriting

Handwriting tutors get swamped with enquiries ahead of school admission exams, starting with 7+ entrance.

Lee Dein, a dyslexia teacher who devised her own teaching method that simplifies how letters join up, says adding the flicks common to continuous cursive disrupts handwriting. “We tell children to avoid lead-ins at all cost. They are an unnecessary movement in the flow of writing.” When parents seek her help with their children’s script, the first thing to go are the flicks. “Their writing improves immediately.” Princess Charlotte, Dein warns, might struggle unless she adapts her style: “It’s neat but she might find it hard to maintain when she needs to speed up.”

Handwriting tutors get swamped with enquiries ahead of school admission exams, starting with seven plus entrance. £6,131-a-term Alleyn’s, a co-educational school that takes children aged four to 18 in south London, states “good handwriting” is important when it comes to the creative writing section of its nine plus entry tests. “If handwriting is illegible, people won’t take the time to read what children have written.”

The good news is even bad handwriting is fixable. Dein, whose Magic Link franchise has teachers across the country, points to her 100 per cent success rate. All it takes is some lessons, available online, perseverance and practise. If only Princess Charlotte were up for some pen pals.