The Write Offs, is a programme on Channel 4 made by Shine TV. It focuses on adults with Dyslexia and poor literacy skills, demonstrating how this impacts individuals, their strategies and need for support and hep, to manage everyday tasks in life and work, which require literacy skills. It aims to show how, with intervention, adults can also develop reading and spelling skills later in life. The programme is presented by Sandi Toksvig and aired on September 22nd 2020 at 9.30pm on Channel 4, over a period of two 60 minute episodes.
In the Summer of 2019, I received an email from Shine TV inviting me to take part in a programme about adult literacy. The programme, The Write Offs, hosted by Sandi Toksvig, will air on September 22nd, at 9.30pm on Channel 4. In September 2019 I had the pleasure of meeting Tommy Dawkins MBE, my student, who I worked with on the show and who has become a true friend.
I’ll be writing a future article about our involvement in the programme and our future aims. For now, here is a synopsis of the programme.
Watch the trailer HERE
Imagine not being able to read a text message, the destination of a train, or use the internet. Over eight million people in Britain wake up to that reality every day.
The Write Offs, an uplifting new two-part series hosted by Sandi Toksvig, explores Britain’s staggeringly low adult literacy rates and offers a diverse group of eight adults – aged from 22 to 66 years old – a lifechanging opportunity to overcome the one thing that has always held them back.
The group, all of whom lack the basic skills necessary for many everyday situations, have different personal motivations for wanting to improve their literacy but all are united in their quest to shed the shame and lift the stigma around illiteracy. By giving each of the contributors intensive one-to-one tuition over a four-month period, the series highlights just how life-changing learning to read and write is. Along the way, Sandi gathers the group every four weeks to face a new entertaining challenge in the real world that will put their newfound literacy skills to the test before all their hard work culminates in an emotional final test held in front of their family, friends and teachers.
The eight contributors come face to face with each other and presenter Sandi Toksvig for the first time as the mammoth challenge that awaits them becomes a reality. Sandi immediately puts them to the test and realises some of her charges struggle to spell even three-letter words. After the first four weeks of individual tuition, the group reconvened for a travel-based challenge to assess their improving reading skills. Paired up, they are tasked with reading maps, signs, arrival and departure boards in order to make it to lunch in the Peak District with Sandi. For 22-year-old young mum Emily, who hasn’t left her hometown alone for the last four years, will this be a step too far? 30-year-old stay at home dad Craig is used to getting lost, but in the past has always called his mum for help. With no mum on hand – how will he manage?
After a further four weeks of lessons, Prue Leith joins her good friend Sandi to challenge the group with a cookery task which will test their new-found writing and reading skills. This time, they’ll need to write a shopping list and visit a supermarket before following and cooking a chicken pie recipe for Prue to taste. For 66-year-old factory worker and town crier Tommy, it’s the first thing he has ever cooked – how will it go down with Prue?
In an emotional end to the episode, Sandi visits Tommy at his workplace in Stoke. One of his lifelong ambitions has been to write and read a thank you letter to his co-workers and staff. Can Sandi help him realise his dream?
After 12 weeks of intensive learning, Sandi Toksvig gathers the group in a London studio for their next challenge – this time they’ll be having a go at acting in a new pantomime, ‘CinderSpeller’. Tasked with learning scripts and reading aloud, it’s something that makes 43-year-old new dad Paul particularly emotional.
Paul has a reading age of a seven-year-old, but it wasn’t always that way – he used to be an English and Drama teacher with a penchant for Shakespeare before a massive stroke three years ago left him unable to read and write. Sandi invites her friend Martin Kemp, who himself was diagnosed with dyslexia in 1995 after two brain tumours, to offer some acting tips before the group perform in front of a live audience at the world-famous Globe Theatre.
For 50 something Viv, a former school kitchen assistant, the prospect of reading aloud fills her with dread. Brought up in Jamaica where her family struggled financially, school wasn’t a priority and she left with no qualifications. Now a single mum of three children who frequently misses important medical appointments due to getting lost, she would love to be able to read and write. Craig has struggled to keep up with his fellow learners and frequently used shortcuts and cheats in the challenges set by Sandi. Could learning to read to his daughter be the key to unlocking his confidence and potential?
After 16 weeks of intensive learning, the group come together for one last time to retake tests that will show how much they have learnt, before competing in an intimidating live spelling bee in front of an audience of their friends and family. Will the group have made substantial improvements to their literacy levels and who will be the most improved learner?
Please come back and visit my blog soon to read my own story about my involvement with the programme.
Production company: Shine TV
Executive Producer: Lana Salah
Series Producer and Director: Richard Mears
If you are an employer or employee concerned about literacy skills or dyslexia here are some useful links
For assessors: Find an assessor
Workplace funding: Access to Work
Visit our website soon for news on our Neurodiversity in the Workplace course for employers. We’ll be talking about all areas of neurodiversity such as ASD (Autism), ADHD, Dyslexia and how you can best support employees and foster a culture of positivity.