Ah, the back end of January! Did we even make any resolutions for this year? If so, what were they, and where are they now? Were we going to spend more time with family and friends and eat less, or was it the other way around? I think the thing about any sort of Ch-ch-ch-ch changes (here’s looking at you, David Bowie) is that we don’t want to feel coerced into making them. Maybe it’s best to keep our heads down until Spring, when all can re-emerge bright and brilliant, like daffodils with an aptitude for Wordle.
So far this year, I’ve been reading a fair bit, and listening to podcasts. As a result of which, I can pose the following question: What do Jay Blades and Philip Morley have in common?
Ah, Jay Blades, you think – the guy from The Repair Shop, right? Not so sure about the other one, but is it something to do with craftsmanship, maybe even bespoke furniture? And you’d be exactly right! Jay, amongst many other projects, restores furniture at Jay & Co, employing disadvantaged young people in the Midlands, whilst Philip creates custom-made furniture from his studio in Texas.
I know this because Philip features in an episode of Lexonik’s ‘Vocabulary Detectives’ podcasts, which also reveals another, more surprising, connection between the two men. They are both dyslexic. And the similarities don’t end there. Each is failed by the education system; Philip being labelled as ‘lazy’ and ‘stupid’ with a ‘bad attitude’, whilst Jay turns up to school largely to fight and get a free dinner.
Similarly, in later life, both men are held back by their low levels of literacy. Philip talks about reading avoidance strategies, counting lost glasses and feigned headaches as favoured excuses, before alighting on flashcards hidden on his person which enable him to copy key pieces of information for his application forms. Jay has to take a hospital letter out into the street and ask a passer-by to read it for him. Pre-diagnosis, and without supporting software, he describes his initial experience as a mature student as ‘the most inadequate and lonely I’d ever felt.’
Of course, these two are not alone. Research by The National Literacy Trust highlights how low literacy skills impact on every stage of a person’s life, from the child struggling at school, to the teenager locked out of the jobs market, to the parent unable to support their own child’s learning, which in turn perpetuates the original situation. It’s a vast problem, affecting millions of people across the UK, with individual countries reporting rates of between one in four and one in eight adults disadvantaged by low literacy skills.
So hats off to the new BBC documentary ‘Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51’ in which we follow the presenter as he confronts his difficulties and embarks on an adult reading course with the aim of being able to share a bedtime story with his teenage daughter. It’s an honest and inspiring show, both in terms of Jay’s own experiences and those of his interviewees, students, parents, and prisoners- all united by their determination to learn and develop the skills that many of us take for granted.
In fact, they are just the kind of students that our Founder Director, Katy Parkinson, was presented with many years ago when she was tasked with developing the skills of secondary-aged pupils in the North East who were underachieving in reading. Utilising her background as a learning and language advisor and her specialism in dyslexia, the kind of students who inspired her to create our flagship literacy programmes Lexonik Leap and Lexonik Advance, have gone on to transform the lives of many thousands of learners, young and old, nationally and internationally.
Having taught the programme myself, I know how well it delivers, whether to students in primary and secondary schools or to adults in prison. That said, the first couple of minutes are always key. We want to empower our learners from the off to give them back the self-belief they may have lost, and to let them know that, this time, things will be different. You’ve been chosen for this, we tell them, specially selected, because you’ve got the potential to succeed. We take away the stigma of a ‘literacy intervention’ and give them a new beginning. Sometimes it’s all in the re-framing. Ask Jay Blades, he knows.
Lexonik • Senior Regional Trainer