Teacher enters Virgin territory to help poor pupils

The British teacher behind a flipped learning website is in line for the Global Teacher Prize
5th June 2015, 1:00am

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Teacher enters Virgin territory to help poor pupils

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"You know how sometimes you think you've got a calling?" Colin Hegarty says. "I think this might be my calling: the one good thing that I can do." He pauses. "Though perhaps that's me believing my own hype."

Maths teacher Mr Hegarty is developing a website that will allow disadvantaged pupils to access clear, effective maths teaching. And at the time of speaking his business plan had just been selected as one of 10 shortlisted to compete for£150,000 of marketing support from Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

This morning he and his work were shortlisted for the $1m Global Teacher Prize

"My dream is to level the playing field," he says. "Private tuition is very prevalent in maths education. Kids in council estates can't afford that.

"You can't make everyone as good as each other, but you can give everyone access to good-quality teaching."

The website was originally conceived three years ago, when Mr Hegarty, who works at Preston Manor School in North-West London, was approached by an A-level student whose father was terminally ill. The boy was going to have to leave Britain for three months to be with his father, but did not want to fall behind in his A-levels.

"Necessity breeds invention," Mr Hegarty says. "I learn most of my stuff from YouTube. If my car breaks down, I don't want to pay someone to fix it - I try and work out how to do it from YouTube. So I put my whole second-year A-level course online. I made a video for each lesson."

Flipping marvellous

The boy subsequently passed his A-level and went on to university. But Mr Hegarty began using the videos in other ways, too. Instead of spending lessons explaining a new topic to his class, he would ask pupils to watch his HegartyMaths online videos for homework. Then, during the lessons, they would work through related questions together - a model of instruction known as flipped learning.

The pupils that year achieved the best results the school had ever seen in maths. Meanwhile, HegartyMaths attracted 4 million views on YouTube, with more than 2,500 users every day.

Pitch perfect

Backed by a grant from education charity Shine, Mr Hegarty has now taken a leave of absence from teaching to launch a new HegartyMaths website. This one - currently being tested in 15 schools - aims to cover the full maths curriculum, from Year 1 through to Year 13. It includes built-in assessment, allowing pupils to test their own knowledge.

In the event, Mr Hegarty's plan came second in the Virgin competion, picking up £50,000. He is planning to use the money to increase awareness in schools of the work he is doing. He also hopes to tap into an international market, in schools teaching the IGCSE and in developing countries, where online lessons could help compensate for any teacher shortages.

"I'm a teacher," he says. "I don't believe that one day there won't be schools and it will all be online. I'm just trying to level the playing field, so any child can realise their ambition."

"We'll try really hard. That's what I say when you're learning maths: if you try really hard, you've got a good chance of being successful."

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