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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain



In 1959 a Youth Club that had been founded by Miss Tennant for E.S.N. children in the Blackfriars area started literacy teaching through the youth worker, John Pitts.  This club was affiliated to the National Elfrida Rathbone Society through the liaison of Anne Evans then the London Development Officer for the Blackfriars Settlement.  The literacy teaching at this point was mainly for youngsters willing and needful of literacy teaching.  Help in setting up the scheme was also obtained from the Cambridge House Settlement Literacy Scheme which assisted in working out the methods of teaching these youngsters.  John Pitts widened the concept from E.S.N. teenagers to include those “at risk” – delinquents, deviants and under-achievers.

The literacy classes were offered in short sessions in the context of the existing youth club with special volunteers willing to accept the additional responsibility of training for this task.  At this point the principle of one-to-one teaching was being applied.  The I.L.E.A. was approached to fund a 2/5th appointment and Frank Hancock joined the scheme from 1969 until February 1970 when the post was increased to 3/5th and Mrs Gladys Zonena joined the literacy scheme.  Mrs. Zonena had special qualifications for this task, she was professionally qualified as a teacher with a degree, holding a linguistics training element.  At that time she was employed as a teacher of secondary school age boys, and had previously taught initial reading to infants and remedial reading at a later stage.  (It is generally accepted in teaching that anyone wishing to specialise e.g. in E.S.N. or the physically handicapped should have as a background substantial experience of teaching the norm.

Frank Hancock also continued to work with the scheme for some time before completing his course at the London School of Economics.  At this time, the reading classes were being held two evenings a week and this was increased to three.  There were some 10 - 12 volunteers and a number of students, including Joan, Dick, Tom and Jane14 who all suffered from some form of mental illness and/or emotional difficulties

The increase in volunteers and classes created many problems.  The premises at the youth club were very cramped and subject to interruption from disruptive elements as  well as disturbance from disco nights and other activities at the club.  The space available for withdrawal from the group for confidential phone calls, interviews etc. was also very limited and therefore it became imperative for the reading group to move into the Settlement premises in Nelson Square.  This move offered the facilities for private interview rooms but also offered the volunteers and students the chance to work in one big room although still on a one-to-one basis.  Initially, both students and volunteers were shy of this “public” venue and of the other couples.  But gradually this wore off as the evidence of many others in the same position gave both students and volunteers more confidence and sense of mutual support.  From this of necessity a club atmosphere grew.  Mrs. Zonena realised the benefits to be derived from this, in terms of mutual support and ease of supervision by the professional worker.

14 These are pseudonyms to conceal students’ identities.

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 10 of 51

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