'The era of students cramming at Easter or just before exams is outdated'

My Job: TJ Hegarty of Cork firm Breakthrough Maths on the expansion of his online tutoring business
'The era of students cramming at Easter or just before exams is outdated'

TJ Hegarty: 'It is an exciting time for Breakthrough Maths. We’re well on track to teaching 3,000 students each week by 2025 and now are now about to begin classes in the UK with tutors already on board there.'

The start of the new school year signals a further phase of expansion for the Cork-headquartered company with its eye on further horizons.

Already well under way with a significant increase in its tutoring staff, the company is also expanding its operations into Britain.

Having been initially established at a Cork community centre in 2020 with just two tutors before moving online, Breakthrough Maths will shortly commence classes in Britain, where five tutors have already been contracted.

Founder TJ Hegarty said: “It is an exciting time for Breakthrough Maths. We’re well on track to teaching 3,000 students each week by 2025 and now are now about to begin classes in the UK with tutors already on board there.

“We have expanded rapidly since we first started less than three years ago, and have recently hired Shane O’Connell as head of education to ensure that we can maintain and build upon the high standards and quality classes that our students and their parents expect. 

"Shane will be making sure that each student is in the right class for their ability, will liaise with parents and supporting tutors in their development.”

With more than 17 years' experience in various positions including teacher, deputy principal, and principal in Cork, Dublin and Galway, Mr O’Connell’s CV also extends to international schools.

“I’m delighted to join Breakthrough Maths and I’m looking forward to the classes getting under way in the coming weeks. Having taught in both primary and secondary schools, I understand that parents need to know their children are learning from experienced, vetted and coached tutors. 

"My job will be to oversee the quality of teaching and to hire, train and mentor the brightest and most engaging tutors across the country,” he added.

“One of the core values we plan to focus on this coming year is getting the very best from all our students,” Mr Hegarty said. “All that parents want is the best for their children, and the word that crops up time and again is ‘confidence’ — and confidence comes with practice on a weekly basis.

“Students need help on an ongoing basis from fifth class upwards. In the past, it might have been a case of getting grinds at Easter ahead of summer exams, but that has changed — nowadays it is all about continual support right up to Leaving Cert.”

Continual growth

The company has experienced continual growth, with student numbers having tripled in the past year.

“There is a market for growth not just in Ireland, but in other countries too, and our launch in the UK will begin with enrolling 100 students initially.”

Already on target to have 40 tutors employed by this coming December, Breakthrough Maths has come a considerable distance from its original offering to 24 students and two teachers in a Cork community hall in 2020: “We are blown away with the talent now on board in the company, with Harvard graduates, mathematics PhDs and 625 point students.”

Breakthrough Maths is currently teaching over 300 students per week and plans to expand that figure to 3,000 by 2025, in addition to the prospect of employing 60 tutors. 

With the European digital education market expected to grow by more than €2bn by 2025, the company’s revenue is estimated to reach €5m in the same period.

While Covid-19 did present Breakthrough Maths, similar to so many other enterprises, with an extreme operational challenge, the long-term result has turned out to have been a benefit due to the flexible adaptability that came about due to the unforeseen circumstances brought by the pandemic.

“Going online has been a game-changer for us. Driving in and out to town was a period of wasted time for both teachers and students, and the ability to accomplish grinds online made perfect sense.

“With teachers and students already in school from nine to four, why add more time and cost to travelling in on top of those hours. The pandemic shifted the tide — people wanted to look after their mental health more and use their time more efficiently.”

A consistent approach to grinds pays dividends over the years, he stressed, the era of cramming at Easter or just before exams is outdated for the student of 2022 and beyond.

“Grinds are a support that students get on a weekly basis from primary school right up to Leaving Cert to give them confidence in their own abilities.”

In smaller classes, students benefit from the personal attention of the tutor and the understanding of maths that generally accrues: “Great tutors have great impacts. In classes of six or seven, students feel part of a small team. Working on problems together builds confidence and fosters engagement.”

Always working to build that ‘confidence’ so often repeated by parents, the Breakthrough Maths team engenders an attitude that even spreads beyond figures and theorems. 

“When a student understands maths, the rest of school gets easier,” Mr Hegarty said. “I’ve been tutoring for over a decade and I have seen hundreds of students transform as soon as they felt confident in maths. 

"From students with autism, right through to students with 625 points, I’ve witnessed that common theme — once you understand maths, school becomes so much more enjoyable!”

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