Reece’s Story

Teacher’s Testimony

Reading is on the menu for Tony

Published by K Davison for New Charter Housing Trust Group

580_Image_Tony_Rider_(right)_and_Lez_Barstow_(Great_Readers_project)A man who grew up not being able to read can now enjoy his favourite football magazines and even choose a meal from a restaurant menu after turning his life around.

46-year-old Tony Rider, a New Charter tenant from Stalybridge in Tameside has been learning to read with a volunteer since last April through a project called Great Readers.

The project, which is looking for more people to get involved, helps adults in the area to learn to read by ‘buddying up’ with other confident readers.

Tony has been attending twice weekly lessons with a volunteer, not just to read but to help him understand what he is reading.

He said: “I struggled a lot with reading and it was embarrassing if I was out because I had to ask people or family and friends to help me. I’ve always been into football and Manchester United and used to buy magazines but I got disheartened trying to read them and shoved them to the back of my wardrobe. Now I can sit back and enjoy them and when I go to restaurants I can read the menu rather than a friend reading it to me.”

Tony left school without learning how to read and found it hard to pick up the skill due to barriers with his speech and hearing and being in and out of school for operations to fix a cleft palate.

He added: “I couldn’t read a full sentence and I used to travel to my mum’s to get her to help me read letters that came through my door.”

Tony got in touch with New Charter Homes about his desire to learn to read and he was referred to the Great Readers project which is managed by LEAP (St Peter’s Partnerships) in partnership with the housing association.

Tony’s reading ‘buddy’ Les Barstow, who is also a New Charter tenant, has been helping Tony to improve his skills with a reading manual called Toe By Toe.

Although Tony has done lots of volunteering, he has never had a paid job but hopes that being able to read will help him to get work, possibly in the care industry. He has also written a CV for the first time with support through the project.

From not being able to read in April last year, Tony went on to win a New Charter “Stars That Shine” award last November for his faultless recording of Roald Dahl’s The Friendly Giant.

Both LEAP and New Charter are keen for more mentors and people who need help with their reading to come forward to be part of the programme.

Tony added: “It’s important to know how to read and people should know where to go for help because it’s made a big difference to my life and my confidence.”

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer mentor or know someone who would like to learn how to read, please contact Angie Knowles, Great Readers Co-ordinator at The LEAP Centre on 0161 214 8300.

Tony made it, but what about the rest?

Article | Published in TES Magazine on 22 April, 2005

TES symbol

Tony is a tall, well-built young man in his early 20s with a pleasant smile and a sunny disposition. He works with his father as a painter and decorator and appears to be doing very well. He’s courting, as they say in these parts and has just bought his first house. I know him because I taught him to read. He came to me a couple of years ago and it was obvious that he was severely dyslexic. At the time he had a reading age of 7 years and 6 months but, encouraged by his father who gave him time off work, he came to me for lessons. He is now fluent, with a reading age of 14 and particularly enjoys reading magazines related to the housing market; he has plans to become a property developer.

He’d been to a huge secondary school nearby until he was 15 and, in common with most schools in the area, they had little or no idea what to do about his reading problem. Sadly, most of his school days were spent in the special needs room, where he was provided with drawing materials and effectively left to his own devices. One can only imagine the tedium of his schooldays. Tony freely acknowledges that he was disruptive and was probably a massive pain in the backside for the staff. Indeed, he concedes that sending him to the special needs room may have been the best option for his over-stressed teachers.
But something he said to me today has prompted me to write this. He was not always alone in the special needs room. Other non-readers – when they were not playing truant – were in there with him. Tony would like to have played truant with them himself; anything would have been better than having to endure his daily humiliation at school. But his father would never allow him to do such a thing and the fear of his father’s wrath outweighed his desire to join the others at the local shopping mall. “All my mates from school,” he told me, “they’re either on drugs or in prison. It’s only because I was so scared of my father that my life is different to theirs.”

Unlike when I began my teaching career 40 years ago, dyslexia is now acknowledged to be at the root of most reading difficulties. It is widely diagnosed in schools and resources are thrown at the problem. Yet Tony was at school in the late 1990s. It’s not a bad school by any means and has extensive special needs provision. In fact I knew its Senco from that time and he was a dedicated, though overworked, teacher.

In my field of literacy training, we deal with many young men who draw little or no benefit from school. If they have close family support, the experience may not prove too damaging in the long term and they can go on to make a good life for themselves. However, we should always consider the tedium and humiliation they must endure at school before the blessed day comes when they can legally leave and find themselves a job and a meaningful way to spend their time. And we must also consider those many young men whose frustration will have led them in other directions.

The simple moral of the story is that, despite advances in the understanding and recognition of dyslexia, we are still failing these children. This results not only in damaged lives but in a prison population most of whom are barely literate. The real tragedy is that it can be avoided. The tools exist for all people to be given the gift of literacy.

Not only for their benefit but for the benefit of society as a whole.

Keda Cowling


  • Following is a moving testament to the determination and commitment necessary to provide a struggling reader with the precious gift of literacy. Julie Thompson, a member of Dyslexia N.I. in Belfast, tells her story…

    “School starts back tomorrow and Ross is going into P5 with a reading age of nearly 10 years, that is just short of a 4-year improvement in the last 5 months. He used to take 40 minutes to read 4 words to me now I can’t wait for him to reap the rewards of being able to read like the rest of the class and I am bursting to hear him tell me all about getting moved up in the reading group. Just today he read instructions out loud to me and I was so proud of him. It’s all been down to the hard work and dedication of doing Toe by Toe everyday. It’s been probably the most stressful time in our house, with fights, tears and threats of giving up nearly every day for the first few months, even now we have a squabble or two every so often. The book has been put in the bin and took out, thrown across the kitchen, slammed shut, and cursed at. The book bears the scars of every fight, the spine has black tape to hold it together, some of the pages are slightly ripped at the edges and some are stained orange with carrots from the bin. But I never thought I would see the day when he would want to treat it like his trophy and handle it with care in case anything else would happen to it, but he does!!
    We have fought one another for all sorts of reasons while doing it, but I guessed it was a battle of wills between us. Little did I know that when we got to page 179 it hadn’t stuck with him, he was reading one letter at a time, not blends or syllables. I was at my wits end, so I contacted Joyce Shaw and told her what was happening. She asked to see Ross that weekend to see if she could help, I think even she was baffled by him. But there was nothing else for it but to go back to the very start with the alphabet and begin again. Wow! It was the biggest shock and disappointing for us both – at this stage my heart was in my boots. But we persevered and managed to catch up fairly quickly. He is now for the first time ever able to read words he doesn’t understand or heard of before (which isn’t easy as he wants to know what every word means as we go along). It has been a hard long slog for us both this summer, but to me there was no other option, he had to do it. I kept telling him every step of the way, “it’s the most important thing you will ever learn” and it’s true!…
    There is no easy way around it when you’re dealing with a reluctant reader. It can take the best of you, but it is totally worth it just to hear him read and see his face when he asks you to count how many letters in a long word. Toe by Toe shows up the weaknesses of a struggling reader and builds them into confident, independent and fluent readers. There’s no doubt without it Ross would be left to sit in the low reading group and called lazy. No way. Not anymore. Not this boy. Thanks to Jeanette for all your suffering on a Saturday morning, and to Joyce for all your support and taking away the stress. xxx”

  • ”Toe By Toe has been amazing! Thank you, thank you, thank you for creating Toe By Toe as it has been a ‘life-saver’ for my son. We are currently completing the Stride Ahead book and loving it! My son gets so excited when he ‘beats’ his times! Stareway To Spelling I believe played a huge role in helping my son get full marks for his weekly spelling tests.”

    Bronwyn Button (South Africa)
  • “My pupils have been working with Toe By Toe for two years now and they have stated that they can now read. WOW! What a success!”

    Jill MacDougall (Learning Support Service), N. Ayrshire KA21 5AS
  • “I went through 3 years of endless IEPs and tutors and then I decided to research curriculums myself. I’m a single mom and decided that a $40 book was worth a shot compared to 3-5 years of OG tutoring costs. … and then. It freaking worked better than anything we had tried. My son feels more successful at it as well. He instantly saw his own progress in the first week” T.S. USA – May 2020

    Tracy Shelor, Happy Mom, USA
  • “My personal experience of Toe By Toe is that children make unimaginable progress. I personally have brought a pupil from total illiteracy to a very confident reader using the scheme…”

    Francis Casey (Headteacher), St Philip Howard R. C. High School, Barnham, Bognor Regis, West Sussex
  • “They are more confident at tackling words that they do not know because Toe By Toe has given them strategies which they, unlike other children, had failed to develop. They are now enjoying their reading but the impact on the children’s lives goes beyond the improvement in their ability. They have become more confident generally and their other school work has also shown improvement…”

    Pauline Kirby (SENCO), Silverdale County Primary School, Newcastle-Under-Lyme, Staffs.
  • “…used exclusively at Costessey High, Toe By Toe has proved to be an invaluable tool for progressing the reading ability of our lower attainers. It is ideal for dyslexic pupils giving them a structured pathway….Having worked in an international school, I can also say that this is the book that I would take on the plane.”

    Brian Coltman (SENCO), Costessey High School, Norwich. NR5 0PX
  • “Toe By Toe is quite simply the best thing I’ve seen. It is designed so carefully and the instructions are so precise that it can be used by any teacher who is new to it, a classroom assistant or a parent…”

    Dr. Jean Alston, Chartered Educational Psychologist and Special Needs Consultant, Cheshire SK10 4RU
  • “Dear Mrs Cowling, many thanks for sending a copy of Toe By Toe so promptly. It looks ideal for my purpose and I shudder to think of those countless pupils whose reading has suffered by a lack of access to this approach!”

    W Batten, Shrewsbury – Jul 1997
  • “Dear Keda,

    I felt compelled to write to tell you how much I enjoy using Toe By Toe with my dyslexic pupils… I have one ‘star’ pupil who is 10 years 9 months old now and started on Toe By Toe in Oct ’97 with a reading age of 8.0. With my encouragement and tremendous parental support he has made amazing progress (and had fun on the way…). He now has a reading age of 11.2. “Three cheers for Toe By Toe!!”

    Megan Hinds – private tutor, Billericay, Essex – March 1998
  • “…significant gains in confidence as readers. They will now attempt self-correction and have a good go at tackling unknown words. I think Toe By Toe is an excellent programme that helps children unlock the mysteries of sound-symbol correspondence and syllabification.”

    Shelagh Graham, Educational Psychologist, Wiltshire SP1 3SL
  • “Thank you so much for the years of hard work you must have put in to create this excellent programme. I hope you are heartened by the difference that your work has made to so many people.”

    Linda Bacon (SENCO) Kingsdown School, Swindon, Wiltshire.
  • “Toe By Toe has been highly effective even with our most severely dyslexic pupils. It has been a Godsend to us!”

    Suzanne Jakeman (Head of ‘Dyslexia Base’) Roundhay School, Leeds, West Yorkshire.
  • “I have used the book, and observed others using it, with phenomenal success. It is extraordinarily simple yet effective.”

    Imelda Isaia (Teacher) Wimbledon SW20 0RG
  • “I am continually impressed with the program. Recent testing is showing substantial gains. Reluctant readers really enjoy using the program.”

    Ann Hamer, Resource Teacher, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA.
  • “…So often people think that because children have global learning difficulties they will never be able to learn to read properly. Toe By Toe and the hard work and dedication of the staff in the school are consistently proving them wrong. We have 14 young people working on Toe By Toe this session and all of them are making good progress.”

    Elaine McIlree, Kilpatrick School, Clydebank, Scotland
  • ”Dear Mrs Cowling, I am writing to you because you have helped me understand the beautiful world of reading. I have made lots of amazing progress since you made this program. I’m so happy because I was not sure if this was going to work because I have tried lots of things. You are like a hero to me……. Once again thanks a lot for your program. It’s helped, me and other people. It will always be in my heart.”

    Charlie Riley, Grove Hill F.E. Centre, Ventnor, Isle of Wight – March 2010
  • “When I came to retire, 175 children had completed their Toe By Toe manuals. Hundreds more have had input (20 on at the moment) and some took their books on to Army College and F.E. Colleges – totally amazing.”

    Bryn Clarkson, Eston Park School, Middlesborough – Aug 2010
  • “Dear Keda, just to let you know that we have had 100% success with your ingenious and foolproof literacy programme. Every child has succeeded in raising their literacy levels…. and most importantly their self esteem, self belief and confidence…. Our dedicated Learning Support Assistants fully believe in the success of this programme and they attribute much of their work satisfaction to the success of the programme.

    Thanks Keda – your book is a God-send”

    Brenda Banks, SENCO – St Mary’s College, N Ireland – Oct 2010
  • “Your resources continue to make an amazing difference to students working on them. For the last few years I have also had sixth form students, who themselves have completed Toe By Toe, coming once a week to help with the current batch of Toe By Toe readers. This has proved to be very powerful when we tell a struggling Year 7 student that their coach did Toe By Toe in Year 7 and is now able to come back to help them.”

    Sue Bird, Toot Hill School, Nottingham – May 2011
  • “I have just finished Toe By Toe and it was awesome!!!! It helped me a lot. At the moment I am reading Wolven by Di Toft. It is about a werewolf and is very freaky so far. When I am older I would like to be a computer programmer. Thank you for writing this book and helping me to read better and more confidently.”

    Ethan B. – aged 10 – U.K. primary school student
  • “I cannot tell you how wonderful I believe this program to be. We have had huge success with it at our school and would love to spread the word about it so that other students may benefit.”

    Sue A., Toe by Toe Co-ordinator at a primary school in Melbourne, Australia – May 2012
  • “I am a PGCE teacher with a certificate in SpLD, and I have found Toe By Toe invaluable. I have worked as a withdrawal teacher in schools, and since being semi-retired from home. It gives me so much pleasure to see the progress that children make with Toe By Toe. Many thanks for having produced such a useful tool that can be shared with parents.”

    Anita W, Private Tutor, Devon – July 2012
  • “Dear Keda, I am not sure whether you are still doing the certificates for Toe By Toe but I have a child in my class who is about to complete it. His name is Bradley and he has done superbly well.”

    Senco, Primary School, Cambs. U.K. – Nov 2012
  • “About two years ago I had the pleasure of hearing you speak. You gave us some wristbands to give to the children we work with. I work one to one in a primary school helping children work their way through Toe By Toe and unfortunately I gave my last one out today (fortunately it means another child has just finished Toe By Toe and can read words like philatelist!) Is it possible to get some more wristbands…?”

    T.A. at a primary school in East Anglia – Feb 2013
  • “I have worked with a student over the past two years on your fantastic reading scheme. Both his teachers and parents note a marked difference in his performance and confidence which we think can be attributed to Toe By Toe. I wondered if it was possible to provide this student with a certificate for completing this task as I would consider this as a massive achievement.”

    Ruth S. – Learning Support teacher, Scotland – Mar 2013
  • “I am a teacher of children with complex learning difficulties and additional support needs. One of my pupils has finished Toe By Toe and is very proud of his achievement and said he wants his book framed with the caption ‘This is how I learned to read…’”

    B.S. – Scottish teacher – May 2013
  • “I just wanted to let you know that we are still having great success with the program here. I cannot tell you how pleased we are with the results we are getting from Toe By Toe. These results are becoming known at other schools and they all “want in on the action!

    Congratulations to Keda again for a wonderful program, and never fear, I will continue to spread the word over here in Melbourne. I have had schools from far and wide contact me and it is wonderful to know that so many children are being helped by your amazing program.”

    Sue A – Toe by Toe Co-ordinator, Melbourne – June 2013
  • “I can’t praise Toe By Toe highly enough, go on Amazon.co.uk and look for my review (Sherbertlemontiger is my user name). My young son went from unable to read to reading everything he can lay his hands on, and sneakily reading by torchlight at night! It was a battle, he resisted for the majority of the year that we did it – just because!!! But it has transformed his life, he now reads 2 years above his age. It has also improved his ability to do Maths as he can now read the questions. … Your Mum is one of my all time heroes”


    My son was 10 years old and going into 4th grade. He was reading at k/1st grade level. He had special education for 5 years and school kept saying the gap was due to ADHD. He does have ADHD but that didn’t explain why he couldn’t seem to read. Finally, we got dyslexia mentioned. I looked it up and BINGO!. We were going to have to wait for months for formal diagnosis then find A tutor… etc. Someone on a group mentioned TOE BY TOE. I figured for $35, it was worth it to start SOMETHING! Since then, we have done it daily and it worked. We started seeing results before the assessment and formal OG tutoring started. We started that, had about 15 sessions then COVID. But we could still do TBT. We are almost complete. I have ordered the other two manuals and plan to do those but with current “homeschooling”…I am able to understand and help…The tutoring went virtual but since I am not working, I didn’t resume. It wasn’t worth the money. My son is doing really well and making big progress everyday” C.D. – happy Mom, USA – May 2020

    Proud Mums and their experience with Toe by Toe