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How a former teacher’s dyslexia diagnosis inspired new edtech platform Eden Fifty One

Tom Reynolds

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.”

How the Eden Fifty One platform works

Tom counted each skill across reading, writing, speaking and listening – 18 for writing skills, 18 for reading skills, and 15 for speaking and listening skills, and colour coded them in his spreadsheet. It was as simple as marking blue for brilliant, green for good, yellow for okay and red for weak. He was then able to monitor and track the progress of his students to build a detailed picture of where their strengths and weaknesses were. 

Pondering why no one else had figured out this approach, he began to print out hundreds of exam papers across the world, sprawled out across his parents’ living room floor. 

“I just printed off as many as I could get my hands on from all over the world. If the skills were different, I cut them out and put them all over the floor,” he explained. “If they were duplicated, they went in the bin. Over a period of weeks, I ended up with 51 universal skills. I kept trying to print off new papers to disprove the theory and I couldn’t.”

After teaching with this approach for years successfully, he took his findings to other leaders and specialists in the field of English – but they couldn’t disprove his theory either. He decided to come up with a name for his solution and landed on Eden Fifty One – Eden as a portmanteau of education and English and Fifty One for the number of universal skills he discovered. 

“It really annoyed me that it wasn’t 50! For marketing purposes, I was absolutely gutted that I couldn’t delete one of them,” he teased. 

He decided it was time to resign as a teacher. “I had a good career, but I never actually set out to be a teacher. I just set out to see if I could understand the learning process a bit better and I think I’ve done that.”

Armed with just his Excel spreadsheet, he sent it to schools across the UK to trial out. “I needed to prove that it works without me. I was very aware that people might just say it’s because of my background, experience or maybe it’s because I’m a good teacher. Whilst I would like to think that that’s true, I needed to prove that it was the platform not me!”

Within six months of using it, various schools reported that they not only had the best results “in their history” but the “best results within their multi-academy trusts’ history”.

But the spreadsheet kept crashing with so many teachers attempting to open it at the same time. “I knew at that point that I was really onto something,” he said. “It just wouldn’t scale in Excel, and then… Covid hit.”

Thanks to Liverpool entrepreneur Jonny Clark, he was introduced to a developer who agreed to build Eden Fifty One as a standalone web app in exchange for sweat equity.

“I can now say to students, which one of the 51 skills do you struggle with? That’s a whole new world for them. Teachers have never had it in a comprehensive list before that can apply to any exam board regardless of what school they’re at and what country they’re in. They’ve never had it embedded within a piece of software that will monitor and track and help them to organise and reduce their workload, making their job easier.”

“We have no idea how much the education gaps have been exacerbated by Covid”

Working with various educational institutions, at Liverpool John Moores University he’s training the next generation of teachers on how to use his platform who will then take it out into their placement schools. Once he collates the feedback, he hopes to take his findings to Steve Rotherham, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

Two multi-academy trusts are currently trialling it but he hopes it can be rolled out in Liverpool city region first, as it’s a city close to his heart. 

Credit: Jaime Lopes via Unsplash

“Liverpool City Region’s education outcomes are historically the poorest nationally. Merseyside’s education outcomes for Key Stage Four GCSE are the poorest in the country. I would like this to go into the Liverpool city region first, because it’s where the idea was born and it’s where it needs it the most.”

His ultimate ambition is to take the platform global, and he’s already making moves to make that happen. 

Attending one of the biggest edtech shows BETT in London has been fortuitous, it’s where he met the Department for International Trade who invited him along as part of a delegation to the BETT show in Asia. At the time, he emphasised that he was keen to meet with state school leaders only, with his desire to unlock opportunities for those who are more disadvantaged.

“I want to provide interstate public education for real people. We have no idea how much the education gaps have been exacerbated by COVID but it will be colossal.”

Meeting with the Ministry of Education and Training for Vietnam at the BETT show in Bangkok, after he showed them the platform they decided to use it for a research study at one of their universities. The study kicked off three weeks ago and is set to conclude in June. If successful, Eden Fifty One could become a state provision for approximately 10 million people in Vietnam.

Despite his inspiring journey so far with Eden Fifty One, up until now he has bootstrapped the platform himself by juggling work offering an education consultancy. 

Named as a Tech Nation Rising Star North West city winner, he’s also part of the Exchange programme, the Manchester-based tech scale-up support scheme based at Bonded Warehouse too.

He’s decided now is the right time to seek investment of £250,000, which he hopes will help with his global ambitions and scale the platform further.

“I think it would be naive of me to think I don’t need it,” he said. “It’s a very exciting ride. I have a great story, but I’m aware that’s all it is at the moment. It needs to turn from a great story into a great business, the right investors coming on board will help me to do that.”

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