How to develop fluent transcription skills in school

This blog delves into Ofsted's latest English Subject Report, specifically emphasising writing. Within the blog, we offer several recommendations aimed at helping students develop the proficient transcription skills required to meet curriculum demands in Key Stage 2 and beyond. 


Ofsted recently published it's Telling the Story: The English Education Subject Report. The content of the report is drawn from a range of schools and identifies common strengths and weaknesses found during recent Ofsted inspections. On a positive note, the teaching of reading was found to have improved ‘markedly’. However, the writing and spoken language curriculum is described as ‘less effective’. A major concern in writing is that pupils do not always have the necessary transcription skills for them to carry out the writing tasks they have been asked to do. In this blog, we explore how transcription skills can be developed in our young writers.


Fluent handwriting is essential if pupils are to write at the length needed in order to demonstrate that they can do so in a sustained and coherent manner. The English report states that, in some schools, handwriting is not taught specifically, and pupils are given little time to practice and develop their skills. In order to develop fluent handwriting:

  • Provide opportunities for pupils to develop their gross and fine motor skills through a range of activities such as crawling, cutting, bead threading
  • Encourage the use of a tripod grip and try to correct the grip of pupils who are holding their pencils in a way which hinders writing fluency
  • Teach letter formation through explicit modelling and instruction
  • Provide frequent opportunities to practise the letters learnt, ensuring that they are being formed in the correct way
  • Encourage writing at speed– how many times can you write this letter in 10 seconds? – always check formation and legibility
  • When pupils have written a letter several times, ask them to decide which looks the best and why. They can then use that as a model for future writing
  • Dictate simple sentences so pupils can focus on their handwriting (and spelling) rather than the content of what they are going to write


From my regular interactions with English Subject Leaders, I know that spelling is an issue in many schools, particularly since the recent closures due to Covid-19. Although Ofsted inspectors see evidence of spelling being taught explicitly, there is little evidence of pupils being given the time to practise and embed what they have learnt. In the early stages of writing, aim to:

  • Regularly include spelling and writing words as part of the daily phonics lesson – revisit the learning at other times during the day
  • Develop oral segmentation skills
  • Ensure that pupils can spell the common exception words cited in the National Curriculum – build fluency with these words by asking pupils to re-write a word several times, always covering other attempts rather than copying them
  • Making and breaking words using magnetic letters is a useful interim step for pupils who struggle to learn to spell words
  • Encourage pupils to use words they know to get to other words. If they know how to look, can they try a book, take, or shake?
  • As with handwriting, dictation is a useful tool both for practice and assessment

Sentence construction 

The report highlights the importance of oral composition for young writers and reflects on the fact that inspectors did not see enough of this taking place in schools. The National Curriculum programme of study for Year 1 states that pupils should write sentences by saying out loud what they are going to write and composing a sentence orally before writing it down. In Year 2, pupils are expected to consider what they are going to write, including planning or saying it aloud before they do so. Rehearsing a sentence, or longer piece of writing, aloud before writing enables the pupil to check that what they have said makes sense and to consider changes they might want to make to improve the sentence before committing it to paper. If they are rehearsing the sentence with an adult, it also provides an opportunity for the adult to intervene and prompt any changes which may be necessary. Further ideas for developing sentence construction include:

  • Orally rehearsing the sentence and the punctuation – using actions to indicate the punctuation can also be helpful
  • Sentence/Not a Sentence game – the teacher reads out a sentence or phrase, and pupils have to decide whether it is a sentence or not
  • Dictation of simple sentences, adding in the necessary punctuation
  • Missing punctuation – can pupils add the punctuation missing from a series of sentences?
  • Orally completing a sentence using different conjunctions, for example, I went to the park, but…I didn’t go on the swings. I went to the park because…I wanted to feed the ducks. I went to the park when…I finished school


In order to explore these aspects of writing further, visit our dedicated training portal and search for Developing Fluency in Writing. Other available courses include Teaching Spelling and Teaching Handwriting.

Or contact to learn more about the support and training we can offer schools, academies, and trusts.