Pensioner branded a ‘dunce’ at school finally learns to read at 87

Andy Wells

A pensioner who was branded a dunce at school and hid her illiteracy for her entire life has finally started to learn how to read – at the grand old age of 87.

Retired factory worker Ursula Shepherd, who has learning difficulties, left school at the age of 15 unable to read or write.

The pensioner says her teachers in the 1930s “didn’t care” if she was educated and ever since leaving school she has hid her illiteracy, relying on others to write her cheques, read her utility bills and translate road signs.

As a result, Ursula has never voted, borrowed a library book, read a newspaper, written a letter or filled in a form in nine decades.

Ursula was called a dunce at school because of her illiteracy (SWNS)

But last Autumn she told her live-in carer that she wanted to learn to read and started attending weekly sessions at Learn Devon, her local education centre.

She began by sounding out simple words like cat, bag and run and is now in the process of working out how to decipher full sentences.

Eventually, she hopes to read love stories, take out a library book and understand the instructions that come with her knitting patterns.

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Ursula, from Exmouth, Devon, said: “It feels marvellous. I’m so happy. I think it’s lovely. Everybody should be able to read.

“When I was at school the teachers didn’t care. I didn’t have any help from them.

“I would sit with a girl and she was reading but I couldn’t read, so when she turned the pages I turned my page over because I didn’t understand.

The pensioner hopes to read love stories (SWNS)

“I felt sad because I always wanted to read, you see, and they just put me in the corner. I felt like I missed out.

“If I had opened up a book last year I wouldn’t have understood any of the words, but now I can read quite a bit.

“I know my alphabet but I have trouble with my ‘b’s and ‘d’s, so I say ‘b’ for ‘belly’ and ‘d’ for ‘dog’. My teacher is teaching me to split the words up.”

Once Ursula, who has never married or had children, has mastered the basics of reading she even plans to learn how to write for the first time in her life.

She added: ”I hope I can inspire other people to learn to read. People say they’re too embarrassed but I would love to help them.

“I’m very much enjoying it so far. It’s never too late.”

Top pic: SWNS

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