Education Correspondent Shahid Naqvi talks to one education failure who is only just getting back on his feet at the age of 40.
Hitting mid-life can be a time of change. A time to reflect and try something different. Perhaps a new hobby, change career or gain a new skill.
Martin Murdock's life-changing event is as basic as they come: the 40-year-old from Yardley, Birmingham is embarking on a mission to learn how to read and write. After years of dead-end jobs, unemployment, drink, petty crime and even a period in prison, the father-of-five believes he is now on the most important journey of his life.
At stake is the chance to alter the course of his life, with the help from one of country's leading entrepreneurs - multi-millionaire Dean Dunham.
The unlikely catalyst for Martin's turn around was daytime TV.
"I was sitting in front of the TV watching The Trisha Goddard Show and there was this bloke who said he could make anyone a millionaire.
"I thought 'I can't read, I can't write, let's see him put his money where his mouth is'. To be honest, I was half-cut so I rung up and the next thing I new was being invited on the show."
The man on the telly was Dean - author of Anyone Can Be a Success, Anyone Can Be a Millionaire - and he challenged Martin to prove he could learn to read and write in three months.
After that, he was invited to appear on a follow-up show where the entrepreneur would choose one of five hopefuls to set up in business with £10,000 of his own money.
Martin turned up and though impressing Dean - and the studio audience with the progress he had made - he was not selected.
"I didn't win but afterwards Dean took me into the green room and said 'you tick all the boxes - the reason I didn't choose you was that I thought if I did your reading and writing would be affected'."
The entrepreneur, however, promised to get in touch within a year's time and help Martin make a success of his life, once he had sharpened up his reading and writing skills.
"It is why I am getting my head down in all these books. I am expecting a phone call in six months time. I can't wait to say to Dean 'go into your briefcase and pick out one of your papers and I will read it'."
Martin's story might serve as a warning to politicians when they talk about the importance of acquiring basic skills.
For despite half a billion being spent on boosting literacy, four out of 10 youngsters still leave school not able to read and write properly. Some, like Martin, have the kind of illiteracy levels normally associated with Victorian England.
"My education was zero," said Martin, whose mother walked out on the family when he was young, leaving his father to raise four children on his own.
"My father sent us to school but we would end up down the canal. I did that for years when I was a kid. I hated school. It was the bullying. I had one of those faces where I would always end up in fights. In those days you had to fight to survive."
By the time he reached secondary age, Martin was in a children's home, largely due to his persistent truancy.
"We used to sit inside a classroom with a canister of gas. All we would do is be as high as a kite every single day. The teachers didn't give a damn. When I left the kids' home I had the reading age of a six-year-old."
Martin also suffered abuse at the hands of staff at the children's home. Five years ago - along with 24 other former residents - he was awarded £6,000 compensation for the maltreatment they experienced.
But the legacy of the education he failed to get cost him a lot more than that.
"I went for a job interview once and got through the interview. I dressed right. I answered the questions well. At the end of the interview the lady said for legal reasons can you read this brass plaque in front of me.
"I have never felt so embarrassed in all my life. That knocked all the my confidence."
After appearing on the Trisha show Martin got himself a library card and started going to the Central Library. A friend is also helping with his reading.
"I'm reading children's books and I just can't believe it. I feel I am getting back on my feet. I used to watch TV 24/7. Now I occupy my mind. I will sit down and try and write a story. To be honest, I am so over-the-moon with it."
Armed with his new-found self-confidence, Martin is now determined to make something of his life.
"I have a passion for food. With a lot of people who can't read or write their memory is astronomical. I can't read the recipe but I only need to watch someone cooking once and I remember it. I'd love to run a pub restaurant."