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Illiterate mum writes prize play

A 38- YEAR-OLD mother of two from Plymouth has won an international prize for writing a drama describing her life as an illiterate adult. Sue Torr, who presented her play at the House of Commons this week, is leading a national campaign to increase public awareness of the plight of people who cannot read or write in school, work and family life.

Ms Torr, who kept the "biggest secret of my life" to herself for 20 years after leaving school, has won a Sony Radio award for outstanding achievements in the UK community and a UNESCO award for literacy. She chose the title of her play Shout it Out from the frustration at being unable to help her son with his homework. She was persuaded to write the play by adult education worker, Sue Cousins, who she met at the gates of her son's primary school.

"When I got the confidence to look my son's teacher in the eye, I started to write about what I felt and the words just ran out onto the paper. I knew I wasn't a dunce or birdbrain after all."

With help from neighbours in a council house literacy centre run by Plymouth College of Further Education, Sue Torr began to describe her life as an illiterate.

"I realise that if you can't read, then you simply can't help your children with as many things," she said.

Her school reports never mentioned she could not read or write.

Her play, performed locally and on BBC Radio Devon, was so successful it has now been shown to 5,000 children in Plymouth primary schools, plus community centres, FE colleges and prisons, including Dartmoor. With backing from the Basic Skills Agency the cast will tour nationally.

Sue Torr has just returned from showing it to the Education For All conference in Dakar, Senegal, following others in Paris and Bangkok.

Schools minister Estelle Morris said this week she hoped Shout it Out would ensure "no child would be deprived of the basic skills of literacy and numeracy in the new millennium" and "ring bells" with policy-makers to ensure that no adult experienced this kind of stigma again.

Director of the Basic Skills Agency Alan Wells said the message of Shout it Out would persuade young people to stay in education and push the UK's 7 million illiterate adults to get help.

Performances can be booked from Sue Torr, Room 6b, CFE Martins Gate, Plymouth. Tel. 01752 227668.

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