The pros and cons of the pen licence

A school child sat at a desk, writing with a pen.

A school child writing with a pen

The National Curriculum states that pupils should leave primary school with “fluent, legible and, eventually, speedy handwriting”.

To achieve the curriculum’s handwriting goal by the end of Key Stage 2, many teachers use pen licences to motivate pupils to work harder on their penmanship.

While the promise of a pen licence works well for some pupils, it doesn’t work for others.

Let’s explore what a pen licence is, why teachers use them, and the pros and cons of their use in school.

What is a pen licence?

A pen licence certificate incentivises KS2 pupils in primary school to develop neat, well-formed and quick handwriting.

The certificate is commonly awarded to pupils when they demonstrate a set level of handwriting proficiency, and the assessment usually takes place over a few weeks rather than on one occasion.

Pupils need to demonstrate set skills to earn a pen licence. The exact skills vary between schools and teachers but often include:

  • gripping the pencil correctly
  • writing on the line
  • forming letters correctly
  • keeping letters the same size
  • beginning each letter in the correct place
  • joining letters correctly
  • using the correct spacing between words
  • ensuring ascending and descending strokes are the correct length
  • writing in a way that others can read.

Upon receiving the certificate, pupils are granted the privilege of using a school pen instead of a pencil for classwork and homework.

In many circumstances, the whole class doesn’t receive its pen licence on the same day.

The licence is usually delivered with a warning that it can be revoked at any time if a pupil’s handwriting deteriorates.

Why are pen licences used in primary schools?

Pen licences aren’t compulsory, but many teachers use them to encourage pupils to reach a set level of penmanship.

The pros of a pen licence

A boy using a fountain pen to complete his school homework.

Like all educational methods, there are pros and cons to using pen licences in primary schools.

Let’s explore the advantages first.

A pen licence is motivational

There’s no denying that children love a challenge and will often practice their handwriting more with the promise of a certificate and permission to write in pen.

A pen licence can be a source of pride

Pupils who succeed in gaining a pen licence feel pride when receiving their certificate and when writing with a pen in class.

A pen licence can boost self-confidence

Receiving a pen licence can be a significant moment for a primary school pupil, indicating that their hard work and dedication have paid off.

The achievement can boost self-confidence and inspire pupils to strive for excellence in other areas of their education.

A pen licence promotes responsibility

Some schools provide a pen with their licence while others rely on parents to provide one.

Either way, pupils will want to take care of their new writing tool, and it’s an opportunity to learn about responsibility and accountability.

The cons of a pen licence

A school girl stood sharpening a pencil.

Now, let’s shine a spotlight on the drawbacks of the pen licence.

A pen licence can result in low self-esteem

Pupils who take longer to achieve the required handwriting proficiency can lack confidence as they’ll see each of their classmates celebrated and promoted to pen use before them.

A pen licence creates a hierarchy

Pen licences create a hierarchy in the classroom, with those who achieve their licences first being perceived as more skilled or advanced than those who don’t.

The hierarchy can lead to feelings of resentment and unnecessary divisions between pupils.

A pen licence is discriminatory

The pen licence teaching method discriminates against disabled pupils and those with dyspraxia and impaired motor skills due to other medical conditions.

Some pupils will never achieve their pen licence, and others will struggle to before they leave primary school.

While these pupils may be skilled in other areas, focusing on handwriting through a pen licence can dent confidence and highlight differences between pupils — again, causing division.

A pen licence focuses heavily on handwriting

With the focus on handwriting the pen licence can overshadow the importance of the writing itself.

With a strong focus on neat handwriting, the importance of spelling, punctuation, grammar, and the content of what is written can be missed.

How teachers can avoid using pen licences

Teachers not wishing to use pen licences in their classroom can avoid them by working on handwriting skills with the whole class and promoting every pupil to pen use simultaneously.

Offer pupils the opportunity to use pen or pencil as they please, enabling them to select the best tool.

Given a choice, pupils who prefer to write in pencil won’t stand out like they would if they hadn’t yet achieved a pen licence.


Whether you support pen licences or not, you may be keen to learn how to help your child improve their handwriting, and you can find out all you need to know on our blog. If your child is left-handed, we’ve got plenty of handwriting tips for them to excel with their penmanship, too.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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