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Left Handers And School Tests

boy writing left handed

Left-handed children do less well in school tests than their right-handed peers according to new research.

Research by the Economic and Social Research Council found that children who are left-handed score lower in IQ tests and throughout their school career will score around 1% lower in tests than right-handed children.

The study looked at more than 10,000 children from the University of Bristol's Children of the 90s project.

They compared data on each child's performance at school on the key stage 1, 2 and 3 tests, taken at the ages of seven, 11 and 14 as well as an IQ test.

It revealed that slower development is more highlighted in children for whom neither hand is dominant, or "mixed-handedness", particularly in girls.

Professors Paul Gregg, Carol Propper and Katharina Janke from the university's Centre for Market and Public Organisation, say the findings allow them to rule out other factors that might have caused a gap in cognitive development between left and right-handed children, for example, being from a poorer home background, family size or a child's birth weight.

hand up left handedThey said: "Our results suggest that schools could use mixed-handedness as a marker for children who are likely to need greater intervention.

"As tests for mixed-handedness are simple to administer, they would be a cheap way of identifying children who otherwise might slip behind their peers."

These findings come as no surprise to specialist in left-handedness, who have campaigned for greater understanding of left-handedness in schools for many years.

Lauren Milsom, author of "Your Left-Handed Child" and spokesperson for the Left Handers Association, is pleased this study has highlighted the issues. However, she feels the causes of the gap are just as likely to be practical as neurological. She commented "Children who are either left-handed or unsure of their hand preference quite often lag behind at the start of their schooling, and at any stage where they are acquiring new skills, as they need to adapt given instructions or equipment to work for them, or worse, undertake tasks in an awkward and inefficient way. Handedness often receives no consideration from teachers in any but the most basic writing skills, whereas it is fundamental to a child's ability to acquire skills or complete work comfortably and efficiently."

Another area of concern is the layout of test papers, particularly multiple choice papers, which put left-handers at a disadvantage. The traditional layout of 2 column papers, has the questions on the left and answer boxes on the right. This necessitates the left-hander, whose hand follows their pen or hooks above the writing line, to cover the questions each time with their hand or arm, so they have to shift position to read each new question, losing their place and often breaking concentration.

A recent study among school children by the Left-Handers Association found that the majority of left-handers struggled at school with fundamental skills such as writing, yet only 10% had received specific guidance on left-handed writing techniques from their teachers.

School tests and lefthanders

These practical issues do not mean that neurology, or the basic mental structure of learning play no part in the possible causes of this differential. The issue of mixed and left-handed development is itself an increasingly important aspect of research into hand dominance. Children develop at different rates, and some children show no strong preference for one hand over the other to write with by the age of 5. In left-handers, it is not uncommon for this preference to be delayed up to the age of 7. With the National Curriculum this provides a problem as writing skills are taught at 5, if not younger, and all children are urged to choose a hand for writing at this age. A child without a strong hand preference can therefore be at an even greater disadvantage than a strongly left-hand biased child, as they may begin writing with one hand then want to switch to the other as their fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination develop.

Studies have suggested that left-handedness is higher in the extremes of mental ability, with more left-handers present among children with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADD, and also among gifted children. Again Lauren Milsom is hopeful that this study will highlight a need for more concrete studies to ascertain the proportion of left-handers among these groups, so that this can be taken into account in their teaching.

But she is keen to clarify that "Left-handedness is in no way a disability or learning difficulty, but it is a fundamental part of each person's makeup." She adds "Schools need to appreciate the far reaching relevance of a child's handedness in all aspects of their schooling. It should routinely be noted on each child's records, and the teaching or equipment adapted where relevant to give left-handed children an equal learning experience."

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