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The Growth Of Awareness Of Adult Illiteracy In Britain

By November 1970 the scheme had some thirteen students with a steady stream of referrals, but insufficient volunteers to be able to accept all would-be students.  By now, Mrs. Zonena was at Philippa Fawcett Teacher Training College as a lecturer in English and Drama.  Through this work and her previous experience she was convinced that a major valuable factor in training was the opportunity for discussion and advice relating to the student / volunteer working together.  Also the need for a student to work with just one carefully selected volunteer, rather than frequent changes of teachers, to give security and continuity to the students, although occasionally this principle of firm matching had to yield to the need for flexibility.  Another useful factor was the value of informal general discussion between the professional teacher volunteers and students all together in an informal venue - often the local hostelry.

Tutorials and seminars were also introduced for the volunteers with whole-day conferences where reading and literacy experts could talk to the volunteers and give guidance and advice, offering tutorial refreshment and stimulation to the methods used by volunteers with their students.

The underlying principle of all training was the linking of theory with practice.  An induction interview preceded the volunteer’s contact with students.  Initial experience might be of several students or the volunteer might be matched from the start.  Since no two students were identical, no rigid programmes were possible.  Volunteers when they required it, were offered the help most suitable to their student and identified literacy aims.

The influence or the Blackfriars Settlement was also strong in the literacy scheme.  The practice of befriending, counselling and guiding the students in their own life, helping with form-filling and other tasks was part of the original scheme envisaged by John Pitts and Frank Hancock and continued by Mrs. Zonena.  The policy of a personal and individual approach to both students and volunteers needs did not preclude widening the students’ horizons and socialisation outside the club.  Other activities were organised as part of the scheme, including various outings, carol singing and other group activities, which were very successful in cementing the Club atmosphere and helping the students to attain a certain level of social behaviour and ability to cope in a wider circle of acquaintances.  There was a strong commitment at all times to the need for attention to the clients' perceived needs in the context of their social background.

The scheme was visited by Mr, Sidney Heaven, I.L.E.A. Further Education Inspector; later by Dr. Mary Wilson and Mr. Wilf Brennan of the Special Education Inspectorate.  At the peak of the scheme, by 1972-73 the Blackfriars literacy club was catering for some 45 - 50 students.  In 1973 there grew a tendency for the policy of the Settlement to change from individual casework to community action.  This coincided with a wider public interest in the problems of the adult illiterate which had been stimulated by the British Association Settlements’ campaign “The Right to Read”, on the Steering Committee of which Mrs Zonena represented the Blackfriars scheme.

An application to the I.L.E.A. by the Warden of the Blackfriars Settlement resulted in the increased allocation of one whole literacy worker.  Mrs, Zonena refused this post subject to the change of brief by Blackfriars, from the special to the normal adult illiterate.  The Cambridge House Scheme was also operating with normal adult illiterates in the same area of South East London.  Mrs. Zonena and a senior volunteer

© Amity Reading Clubs and Betty Cooper 1978 to 2002 Page 11 of 51

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