Third Space Learning: online learning reducing education inequality

Third Space Learning

Tom Hooper, the entrepreneur behind Third Space, saw an opportunity to use technology to tackle mathematical underachievement in schools, particularly for the most disadvantaged students.

Less than 2% of UK primary school teachers are maths specialists. We face a systemic shortage of numeracy expertise, which is having a disproportionate impact on the poorest children.

Third Space radically addresses this lack of supply, using technology to connect maths specialists from around the world to schools in the UK. It allows teachers to book specialist online one-to-one support from a global network of maths experts, accelerating their students’ performance.

Social impact

Schools buy learning programmes for £200-600 per student, providing weekly one-to-one support through the academic year, with the target being the pupil premium budget, aimed at raising standards for disadvantaged children.

After four terms, since launch in 2013, Third Space is being used in 187 schools across 80 local authorities, with over 2000 students every week.

Investment

In 2014, the business was backed by a select group of angels, including those from Clearly Social Angels. Investors included Clearly Social Angel Meganne Houghton-Berry, Charles Prior, Founder of BPP, and Will Hobhouse, former Chairman of Jack Wills. Telefonica, through their Wayra UnLtd Social Technology programme, also invested. In July 2015, Third Space received further backing, with a £1.5m Series A funding round with investment from Nesta and Ananda Social Venture Fund.

A 2015 Financial Times article asked investors why they made impact investments into Third Space – with Will Hobhouse explaining, “Rather than buy a yacht, it might be more fun to see if you can change the world”.

Tom Hooper explained to the Financial Times: “Eventually you get to the point where you’re self-sustaining so you’ve got the revenue not to need hand-outs. . . Otherwise, you are at the discretion of someone else, whereas we’re at the discretion of 2,000 kids. The investors we have are in it for what we’re trying to achieve. And of course they want to make a profit — and we’ll make them a profit. But they’ve got to buy into the vision.”

Like many of the entrepreneurs with whom we work, this founder demands that investors care about his social outcomes as well as about growing the business – and that is where conscious impact investors add value to a mission-driven company. In 2014, Third Space Learning and Clearly Social Angels won the UKBAA’s Social Impact Investment of the Year award.

Image: Flickr / Creative Commons / Andrew Stawarz