Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Four-year-olds' writing skills soar
Are more pre-school groups teaching children to write?
The number of four-year-olds able to write their names when they started school doubled between 1997 and 1998, research suggests.
In 1998, a quarter of four-year-olds starting primary school were able to write their names almost perfectly, compared with just over 10% the previous year, according to an analysis of an assessment test taken by tens of thousands of children.
Researchers from Durham University say the figures suggest parents and pre-school groups are making more of an effort than before to teach young children to perform the task.
The statistics come from an analysis of baseline assessment tests devised by the university's Performance Indicators in Primary Schools (PIPS) project.
Since last September, all children starting primary school in England have had to undergo assessment.
The PIPS tests are among a variety used by schools for this purpose. Some schools were using the tests voluntarily in the years before it became compulsory.
The children are assessed against goals, including writing their names, counting to 10, and knowing the alphabet, so that reception teachers can determine what skills they have.
They also found that nearly three-quarters of four-year-olds who started school last September could recognise the first letter of their names, compared with 58% the previous year.
PIPS Project Director, Professor Peter Tymms, said the research findings were good news.
"Basically this means that either parents or pre-school settings are putting effort into getting children to write their own names.
"They won't get there by watching TV or playing by themselves.
"However, it would be inappropriate to try to teach every three-year-old child in the country to write at the expense of other important activities, such as playing with sand and water, cutting things out and colouring in."
Prof Tymms said it was possible to interpret the results as an indication that children were being "coached" to write their own names because of the baseline assessment tests.
But he said: "If that were the case, I think we would have seen an increase in the scores for many other parts of the baseline assessment, and we didn't see that.
"I think it is a more general phenomenon we are seeing here. Styles have changed, pressures have changed, atmospheres have changed.
"It's possible that more children are going to nurseries and playgroups."