Advanced search

Browse your search results by sector:

Browse by audience:


Success stories

Not being able to read and write almost ruined my life

24 Jan 2013

Carl FosterCarl Foster, 41, struggled to learn to read and write at primary school. His poor literacy skills held him back throughout school and threatened to ruin his whole life. Carl’s journey to gain these vital skills was tough but he eventually learnt to read and established a successful career. He has now written a self-help book and runs inspirational workshops to help young people and adults realise their dreams.

Carl tells his story:

Most of my early life felt like a struggle. My home situation was very unstable due to a family breakdown and arguments at times. I often found it hard to sleep. Things weren’t much better at school. I spent most days half-asleep at school and couldn’t focus or concentrate. What the teacher was saying didn’t feel important to me and somehow I missed the boat when the other kids were learning to read and write.

In 1970s Hackney if you had learning difficulties it was easy to slip through the net. At secondary school I joined about 10 other kids in a special needs class and there didn’t seem to be much hope for us. My literacy problems stole my hopes and dreams of success in life. My mother worried about me, about how I was going to survive in this world and live a normal life.
The turning-point came when my teacher, Miss Ball, encouraged me to take part in drama classes. Knowing she believed in me made such a difference. I went on to go to drama school for a number of years and even took part in the BBC television series Grange Hill. Despite all my difficulties at school, I discovered that I was intelligent and articulate and I was good at observing and creating new ideas. 
When I left school I decided to take action and I studied hard to improve my reading and writing. I challenged myself in many ways: taking on jobs I knew nothing about, learning new skills through trial and error and seeing a positive outcome in all circumstances. It wasn't easy at first, but it made me stronger, more creative and more productive. I became a person that was never afraid to try something new from judo to modelling. I now work in the human resources team at Hackney council and recently I have even written a self-help book about my experiences.
My years of struggle taught me both how hard life is if you can’t read and write, and how easy it is for children to fall behind. By overcoming my difficulties and being patient and persistent I have achieved things I would never have thought possible such as writing my book SELFMADE. If you try hard enough, the change will come. Don't live your life by fear of failure, live your life by the thought of winning.


Carl is running motivational workshops to help adults and young people who are struggling with literacy. He aims to share his experience to inspire them to take the first steps in achieving their dreams. The workshop participants will also undertake exercises that will boost their confidence and help them to focus on their goals. The workshops have been developed from the ideas in Carl’s book, SELFMADE. Carl is based in Hackney and is happy to visit schools and colleges as an inspirational speaker or to deliver one of his workshops for students aged 14 and above. If you are interested please visit his website where you can find contact details.

Return to success stories


Email updates

Get updates on literacy news, resources, training and more delivered straight to your inbox.


The National Literacy Trust is a registered charity no. 1116260 and a company limited by guarantee no. 5836486 registered in England and Wales and a registered charity in Scotland no. SC042944.
Registered address: 68 South Lambeth Road, London SW8 1RL.