A pen picture of bright idea that could be a write winner for Letchworth entrepreneur Melanie

Handwriting kit entrepreneur and campaigner Melanie Harwood from Letchworth with daughter Hannah-Jan

Handwriting kit entrepreneur and campaigner Melanie Harwood from Letchworth with daughter Hannah-Jane, eight - Credit: Archant

Businesses often bemoan the lack of basic skills that some school-leavers offer when applying for jobs – but one entrepreneur aims to tackle a specific aspect of that skillset and build her own business at the same time.

Melanie Harwood started developing handwriting classes after her own daughter’s poor penmanship threatened a prized school place.

After initial success close to home, and on a pilot project in London, she contacted schools all over the country to let them know about the system she had created.

But when 7,000 of them said they wanted to be involved with Start-Bee handwriting clubs, it was back to the drawing board.

Realising that the demand far outstripped her ability to supply, Melanie regrouped and put together a handwriting kit which can be used in any setting, together with accompanying lessons online.


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And she has launched a £50,000 crowdfunding bid to raise the money she needs to expand her brainwave.

Melanie, 42, of Gorst Close, Letchworth, built on methods her father used to teach her how to write as she developed her sessions.

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She was inspired to take on the challenge after daughter Hannah-Jane, now eight and a pupil at the town’s St Francis College, was found to be struggling with her writing while at pre-school.

After summer holiday coaching helped her make the improvements needed, Melanie saw the potential to help others with similar problems.

Melanie said: “I cannot explain why some schools are managing to teach handwriting very well but others are not.

“I do, however, know that many recently-qualified teachers have not been taught how to deliver handwriting to children who have anomalies and certain specialist learning issues.

“Part of the problem is the assessment of each learner’s handwriting is not being delivered in schools. I am working on a Start-Bee assessment toolkit which we plan to launch early next year. We plan to streamline the process by empowering and training the teachers so that they can quickly spot the problems and sort them out very quickly.

“We are in talks with the University of Hertfordshire to create a specialist teacher training programme which we would like to offer to all teachers.”

But parents have a part to play as well, she says: “Some parents do not seem to want to take responsibility for their child’s learning journey. They seem to all say the same thing: “Oh well, school will sort it out!”.

“If parents worked for only 10 to 15 minutes every day for a few weeks on handwriting with their children at home, then a lot of the issues would be negated.

“That was the main reason I created Start-Bee. It works, I have proved that it works and I have testimonials from the many primary school teachers who have brought their own children to me when they were struggling with handwriting.”

Melanie has no time for those who say that keyboard skills are increasingly become more important than penmanship.

“Writing has a fundamental part to play in our development as individuals and academic ability, as an increasing number of research papers are proving,” she says. “Can we afford to get rid of something we’ve been doing for six millennia for something we’ve only been doing for 150 years?

“The current statistics that show one in three children throughout the UK are struggling to write by the time they reach 11 and head over to secondary school are horrific.

“Parents do not seem to grasp the gravity of this situation. The schools do because Ofsted inspectors are checking each child’s books and are downgrading schools with poor handwriting provision. I know of one primary school which failed to reach the ‘outstanding’ grade because their handwriting provision was inadequate. It’s one reason so many schools have contacted us to ask for our help.

“Additional funds will help me help more children, not just here in the UK but in other countries, too.”

You can buy Start-Bee resources online, and contribute to the crowdfunding push, online at start-bee.com.

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