Maths teacher wins £50,000 after pitching to Richard Branson

A maths teacher has won £50,000 for his innovative maths-tuition website, after pitching his business case to Richard Branson this morning.

Colin Hegarty is developing a website which will allow disadvantaged pupils to access clear, effective maths teaching. The maths teacher’s business plan was selected as one of three start-up finalists, competing for £150,000 of marketing support from Richard Branson’s Virgin Group.

This morning, the three finalists delivered their pitches to Richard Branson, as well as fellow judges, Justine Roberts, founder of Mumsnet, and model David Gandy.

“Isn’t it tragic that maths is the subject that makes children feel that there are some things that they can’t do?” Mr Hegarty told the judges.

He added that he wanted to build “the dream site, and something that should have existed a hell of a long time ago. We know it’s a game-changer.”

But, after a very close final, Mr Hegarty’s website was beaten to the top prize of £150,000 by a fellow contestant whose business aims to bring holograms to the high street.

Mr Hegarty’s website was originally conceived two and a half 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.

Mr Hegarty therefore put his whole second-year A-level course online, with a video for each lesson. 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.

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.

Today, he told the judges that a partnership with Virgin would help to take HegartyMaths into every school in Britain, and to expand overseas.

“Richard, maths is the reason that, one day, you’re going to be hurtling into space,” he told the judges, referring to Mr Branson’s Virgin Galactic commercial space-travel programme.

But, more importantly, he believed that HegartyMaths could help children “to learn life’s most important lesson: that you can achieve anything you want.”

To this, Mr Branson responded: “Why can’t you have been around 50 years ago, when I was in school?”

The judging process for Mr Hegarty’s category was extremely close. Justine Roberts said that all the finalists had “really, really amazing ideas” and “incredible passion”. However, she said that they ultimately went for the business which they thought had the best chance of “being a global player”.

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