Research and Practice in Adult Literacy – a friendly group

Mark Nourse

Mark Nourse, HMP Winchester

My name is Mark and I was raised in London. I went to Oliver Goldsmith’s primary school in Peckham, South London. My first year there in nursery was amazing. I had so much fun making new friends and playing with water and sand pits. I felt like I had arrived.

Then came the day when we had to move to the main school, Year 1 primary. I was filled with a few anxieties though most of all I remember feeling so excited. I arrived early on my first day and took my place in Mrs Clements’ class. I was sitting next to a girl whose name I can’t remember though who was to have such a dramatic effect on my whole learning life.

Mrs Clements asked me to draw in our book a margin. I had no idea what this word meant. So innocently I asked my new teacher what this word was. At this, the girl sitting next to me laughed and for the first time in my life I felt ashamed, embarrassed and stupid. The class all joined in the laughter, including Mrs Clements, probably only at my innocence. My school life changed in an instant. I reacted with aggression to my shame-driven anger.

I was removed from mainstream learning and placed in the class for special children. My mind remained closed to learning for the next forty years. Rather than risk anyone thinking I was stupid, I would cover my fears with cocky disruptive behaviour. I was even too scared and embarrassed to show anyone my handwriting.

So I am totally amazed that I am sitting here writing this story. I can only believe this is due to the confidence I have gained from Jane who is the Employability Skills tutor attached to the carpentry course in Winchester prison.

For the first time in my life I have a thirst for the development of my self-esteem and learning new skills. Each new day my confidence grows in the knowledge that it’s OK to make mistakes as long as I keep learning from them. I would encourage anyone who is held back by their fears to let go and follow their hearts.

I originally enrolled on the carpentry course because I wanted to learn how to cut a mitre joint and improve some skills with using power tools. To date I have far exceeded my expectations and now hope to push my educational boundaries to new levels every day.

I have learnt to make photo frames of different styles and finishes. I have also manufactured a television stand, bookshelf and a box with dovetail joints to hold letters. All these skills have led to me completing the Safe Use of Woodworking Machinery exams. Along with the workshop exams, I have completed numerous employability exams. These include: tools and equipment for a practical activity; occupational taster; living in a diverse society; communicate in a business environment; and Award in Employability Skills.

I have trained to become a peer mentor for Phoenix Futures and have completed their mental health awareness exam along with numerous others.

At this present time I feel very grateful to all the teachers and facilitators who have taken the time to help me to believe in myself and that the world is not such a scary place with a little formal training. “A work in progress… !

Tutor’s perspective: Jonathan Small

Mark came to his placement with very low self esteem and a fear of looking stupid although he did confide he wanted to improve his literacy. I agreed to provide him with extra work to complete outside of the lessons and to coach him 1-1 when time allowed. He has worked diligently on his spelling and his writing has improved significantly. The biggest change, however, is in his self belief and willingness to contribute to class discussion without fear of being belittled. He has encouraged his peers to benefit from education and is currently acting as a role model/mentor to a young learner.


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