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The misery of not being able to read

Features | By David Reynolds

A new Channel 4 series about illiteracy, The Write Offs, begins on September 22nd. It’s a soul-destroying condition, says David Reynolds, an adult-literacy teacher

An elderly man was sitting at a table, tracing round one of those plastic letters that people put on fridges: ‘R’ – for Ron, his name. He was 80. His wife had died and, throughout their long marriage, she had done the paperwork. He seemed a little lost, as if sitting at a desk with coloured letters wasn’t really for him. He was still a strong man. He had worked as a hod carrier for 50 years, beginning when he was 15. I was observing an adult literacy class as part of my training as a literacy teacher. As well as Ron, there were 12 or so others, divided into groups. Their ages ranged from 18 to 80. The teacher told me to speak to – work with – Ron. She felt he was lonely working by himself. In the UK, a staggering 7.1 million adults are ‘functionally illiterate’ –...

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