LEFT-HANDERS: ARE THEY ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD? – Antony Clark, Head of Malvern College

09 May 2014


Malvern College

Malvern College

I have to say at the outset that I have a keen interest in the nature of left-handers and how they may differ from right-handers in thought processes and in terms of the practical issues before them, but I am certainly no expert in this field.  My most significant source of interest is to ascertain whether teachers in schools are alert to issues facing left-handers and, where there is a difference in their approach to matters vis-à-vis their right-handed counterparts, whether creative provision is made for them.

About 11% of males and 9% of females in the Western world are left-handed or use their left hand in preference to their right hand for performing most tasks.  There are also a number of people who are ambidextrous and use both left and right hands for different tasks, depending upon precisely what the task is and how easy it is for them to use one hand or the other.

In general terms, we are aware that the left side of the brain fuels the logic which is evident in right-handers and the right side of the brain fuels the creativity which is evident in left-handers though this is, naturally, a simplistic overview of the position.  A conference for teachers was held at Malvern College last summer to explore issues related to left-handedness and a high-powered academic team comprising Professor Tim Crow of Oxford University and Professor Chris McManus of UCL explored the origins of handedness, the genetic probability of an individual being left-handed and how there was an apparent decline in left-handedness during the Victorian era.  During this time, in particular, the classical notion of the pejorative term ‘sinister’ meaning ‘left-handed’ was, perhaps, most evident.  The contention is that left-handedness has now levelled off in the Western world, as previously indicated, at around the 10% mark.

Keith and Lauren Milsom of the Left-Handers’ Club are aware of some of the difficulties that left-handers encounter and ways of training younger children with the mechanical skill of writing and they also try to bring the attention of teachers to making adequate provision for left-handers in a range of ways in the younger years.  But some questions arise from issues of ‘handedness’:

  1. How aware are teachers, in general, of some of the issues facing left-handers?  A simple matter is that some left-handers find it very difficult to write with a fountain pen as their work is smudged as they move their hand from left to right on the page.
  2. Do left-handers generally find it more difficult to write for the same length in written answers as right-handers?  If so, does this lead to lower grades being given to them for essay-style work and does this, in turn, lead to them expressing themselves in different ways?  For example, do we find left-handers amongst the top debaters and, in general, more articulate than right-handers?  We understand that five of the last American presidents have been left-handed and that both Barack Obama and David Cameron are left-handers and wonder whether their ability to think ‘outside the box’ and to be particularly articulate has anything to do with being left-handed?
  3. Is left-handedness suppressed in certain cultures?  In all my time in South Africa, I never observed a black African writing left-handed and a pupil at our school who grew up in Shanghai with an American father and a Chinese mother was not allowed to write left-handed.  Is it steadily becoming more acceptable internationally in such cultures to be left-handed?
  4. With regard to equipment and its availability, one must question why so few top golfers are left-handed.  Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson are two of just a handful of golfers who are left-handed whilst, by contrast, there are many tennis players who are left-handed: Nadal, Navratilova, McEnroe….the list is almost endless.  Is this because the equipment that is used in tennis (a racket) is the same for a left or right-hander?  Does the availability of equipment for left-handers, therefore, provide a barrier or an enhancement to success in a particular activity?
  5. Is there a niche that is developing in certain activities for left-handers?  For example, particularly in the era of limited cricket overs, there appears to be an ever-increasing number of left-arm bowlers and batsmen.  The reason for this, doubtless, is the different angle provided by the bowling and the fact that a batsman with a different stance has an impact upon the consistency of the line of the bowler.  Is there a special niche that is now developing for left-handed sportsmen?  Does anybody know how many of the current First Class cricketers in the world are either batting or bowling left-handed?  Is this above the 11% mark?
  6. With regard to eye dominance, is it desirable to test young pupils taking up a game like cricket to establish which their dominant eye is and then, on that basis, is it desirable to coach them either to be a left or a right-hander?  Is it helpful if your dominant eye is the outer eye when you are batting?

There are many ways in which right and left-handers need to be treated in exactly the same way without any particular emphasis on handedness, but there may be areas in which left-handers benefit from different treatment and a deeper understanding of their perception about an essentially right-handed world.  Several teachers in several schools have taken up the thinking in this area and I suspect that we will gradually become much clearer about ensuring that provision for left-handers is all that is should be over the next number of years in all schools.


Malvern College, Worcestershire