Fuelled by a dyslexia and dysgraphia diagnosis at the age of 21, the founder behind new edtech platform Eden Fifty One has developed a solution to “break the cycle of poor education outcomes” when it comes to teaching English.
With around 1.5bn people across the world either speaking English natively or as a second language according to Statista, Tom Reynolds is on a mission to transform the teaching, learning and assessment of the English language and accelerate students’ achievements.
“If I can improve the English language teaching, learning and assessment process, I can improve global opportunities,” Tom Reynolds told Prolific North. “There’s a huge focus in education on grades but grades don’t help a student to learn and they certainly don’t help teachers to teach.”
Facing his own struggles within education, Tom was expelled during his school days and only discovered his dyslexia and dysgraphia diagnosis just days after completing his English degree at university in Manchester.
“I really struggled with it. There were days at university where I would sit in the library on campus for 12 hours and I’d have 100 sentences crossed out. Then I’d leave and someone would ask if I’d done an essay and I’d say I haven’t written a single sentence,” he explained.
“I blamed myself before getting the diagnosis. Even after finishing my last exam in third year, it was still a relief because it just took some of the blame away from me.”
After university, he was surprised when he was asked to help teach after running youth clubs for Wolverhampton City Council.
“I certainly never intended to be a teacher!” he said. “Before I knew it, I was roped into working at a school at the age of 21 and was fast-tracked as an English teacher within six months.
“My dyslexia diagnosis was certainly a catalyst in wanting to become a teacher to see if I could understand the process from the other side of the desk.”
Venturing into the world of teaching, he soon unlocked a missing piece of the jigsaw when it comes to teaching and education – clarity.
“A lot of people go into teaching English because they like the subject and/or because they’re good at it. In my opinion, that’s not the reason to become a ‘teacher’. A teacher should be passionate about explanation, because without passionate explanation, most students will lack the skill set to appreciate your view of the subject,” he explained.
“I was taught by very passionate teachers but I don’t think they considered clarity as being their priority. When I went into teaching, I made clarity my priority and my passion second. That’s where I believe my success came from, I went into it thinking I need students to understand before they can love the subject.
“I believe that clarity of everything is the way that you break the cycle of poor education outcomes in inner city areas.”
The story behind Eden Fifty One and how it helps teachers to support students
After 14 years in teaching where he worked his way up to the role of head of English across five schools, they all achieved their “best ever results” with his own unique step-by-step approach to improving students’ skills in the subject.
“My rationale was that if we break the reason for the grade into pieces, we teach them step-by-step and skill by skill holistically, the grade will look after itself and I proved it on five occasions.”
He soon realised the skills within the English language remained the same regardless of which school he worked at or whether the exam board changed.
“Liverpool is where I came up with this. I was given groups of students who said: ‘I hate English, I can’t do English’. I said: ‘Let’s break that down into pieces. I’ll make a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and I’ll put your name on, I’ll colour code what you’re good at and what you’re bad at. Let’s see if that helps. That’s where it all started.”