Literacy And Life Expectancy

Reading time: 4
International Literacy Day


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
Read more about @TeacherToolkit

What are you doing to raise the profile of literacy in your everyday life?

[David] was born Stockton Town Centre (which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country) and has a life expectancy 26.1 years shorter than [Ahmed] born in North Oxford (which has some of the fewest literacy challenges). [Fatima] born in Queensgate, Burnley (which has some of the most serious literacy challenges in the country), has a life expectancy 20.9 years shorter than [Joanne] born in Mayfield, Wealdon (which has some of the fewest literacy challenges).

Functionally illiterate?

5.1 million adults in England are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning, they cannot read this sentence! There is clear evidence linking literacy and life expectancy in England through the conduits of health and socioeconomic factors. (National Literacy Trust, February 2018).

The Great British Class survey, published in 2013, revealed that there are not just three classes (working, middle and upper class) but seven! Growing up in West Scotland in the 70s, I reminisce and would assume that my mother and father had evolved from a working-class background. Having now read the class survey, I can see that our family would be defined as ’emergent service workers’ (people who rent and have cultural capital); one step higher on the ladder from the ‘precariat’ which represent 15 percent of British society who shows poor economic capital. The traditional working class, about 14 percent of British society, shows relatively poor economic capital, but some housing assets. We [The McGills] were clearly not what we thought, but happy with our home and what choices we had …

What class are you?

One book can change your life!

As a child, my parents didn’t always have the time to read books with me. In our home and at school, we were immersed in a decent selection of books; comics, magazines and the usual childhood classics. Throughout my early 20s, I soon lost my reading mojo. It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of Sophie’s World that I rediscovered my love for reading. In my late 20s and early 30s, I then discovered philosophy and the work of Gaarder, Nietzsche. De Botton, Kurshi, Barthes, Osho, Gurdjieff, Hesse and Winterson (to name a few).

Reading improves opportunity …

Today, according to the British Class Survey of 2013, I would be described as belonging to the ‘technical middle class’; representing “6 percent of British society who show high economic capital, very high status of social contacts and moderate cultural capital.”

But not everyone fits each definition. Seven years ago, I lost my home after being made redundant from working in an academy. In 2011, I took a leap of faith as an expectant father and opted for voluntary redundancy. I am still consolidating from that time and for those that follow me on social media, you may get a sense of why I am so passionate about Teacher Toolkit. I want to see an education system in England that does not drive good teachers out of the profession!

One year ago, I took a further leap of faith and left a school I loved because my day-job in school threatened my family security and my mental health. I don’t think I would have been able to do these things without past experience or having developed a love for reading. A good education (at home and) at school has helped, yet despite living in the U.K., I know this is not possible for every child …

Once Upon A Time …

I am reminded of a poem by Richard Bach for those who may be reluctant to step into the unknown.

“Once there lived a village of creatures along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all — young and old, rich and poor, good and evil — the current going its own way, knowing only its own crystal self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twigs and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting the current was what each had learned from birth.

But one creature said at last, “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go, and let it take me where it will. Clinging, I shall die of boredom.”

The other creatures laughed and said, “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed against the rocks, and you will die quicker than boredom!”

But the one heeded them not, and taking a breath did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks. Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom, and he was bruised and hurt no more.

And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried, “See a miracle! A creature like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah, come to save us all!” And the one carried in the current said, “I am no more messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.” But they cried the more;

“Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a saviour.

From Illusions by Richard Bach


What are you doing to raise your own literacy levels and love of reading in others? For me, having blogged for over 20 years and 10 years now on this website, writing, reading, speaking (in front of 100s) and listening (better) has possibly improved my life expectancy. What about you and those around you? Literacy truly opens doors!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Are you looking for a resource to raise the profile of literacy? This is from the archives, but it may save you some time and you can adopt, edit and use the information to use in a Literacy Assembly in your school.

Take a moment to download the National Literacy Trust report and unpick the data.

One thought on “Literacy And Life Expectancy

  1. Very engaging article. Knowledge does set one free, and it makes them more amenable to wisdom. Life is just so rich when one immerses themselves in the wisdom of great books and they can better cope with real life. Education liberates one from ignorance that resists change and progress. This is among the reasons why literacy prolongs life expectancy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.