My daughter found maths hard – so I invented a homework website to help her…

Times School Gate article

My daughter found maths hard – so I invented a homework website to help her…

 Sarah Ebner, March 23 2011 12:42PM

I’m not a great fan of homework, and I say that as the parent of primary-school-aged children. But when it comes to older children, helping with homework sounds like a complete nightmare. Which is where today’s guest blogger comes in…

Helen Royle is the creative director of stuckonhomework.com, which launched this week (you can get a flavour of the site from the picture above). Here she explains how a whinging teenage daughter was her inspiration!

“Being a new entrepreneur is a bit like being a new mum – lots of hard work and sleepless nights! But of course, it’s incredibly interesting and rewarding as well.

My children are teenagers now but http://www.stuckonhomework.com, the new online educational business my partner Teresa Watts and I founded last October is still very much a baby.

Although we only officially launched at the start of this week, it is the culmination of 18 months of research, development and production – a rollercoaster of a journey that started with us leaving our long-established TV careers to set out on a new path as online entrepreneurs.

I first had the idea for stuckonhomework.com in the summer of 2009, following another frustrating homework experience with my tired, stroppy, stressed out 13 year old daughter. She was stuck on her maths, and my efforts to help were causing more harm than good. In the end it just deteriorated into a lot of shouting – on both sides, I am ashamed to admit.  She was stuck because she had missed a key part of a lesson and hadn’t been able to progress since. I realised that pupils must miss critical lessons all the time because they’re away, sick, or just didn’t understand and were too embarrassed to put their hand up in class.

And that’s when the proverbial light bulb went on. Why not create a website built around video lessons of the entire GCSE maths curriculum, taught by a really great teacher? That way, stressed GCSE pupils can go online (which is where they are most of the time in the evenings anyway), and access the lessons they need, whenever they need them. I ran the idea past Teresa, my long time friend and colleague, and she immediately saw the potential in it.

For us, it was hugely important to create a website designed specifically for teenagers, a place where they felt comfortable, that wasn’t patronising, was really easy for them to use and gave them exactly what they needed to be able to do their homework without having to ask for help. As well as the video lessons and Test Yourself tool, we wanted to integrate a social networking element that allowed pupils to share their homework frustrations and ask their peers for help.

We applied and were accepted for a Technology Strategy Board feasibility grant which enabled us to create a demonstrator, test the idea with teachers, headteachers, Becta, the QDCA and as many GCSE pupils as we could get our hands on – including my own two teenagers and their long suffering friends!

All the feedback we got was positive so we ploughed on with the project.  In September 2010 I suggested we write a letter to Sir Terry Leahy as he was interested in education and had just announced his intention to leave Tesco and invest in small businesses.  A week later we got a call from Anna, his assistant, to arrange for us to come in and talk to him about stuckonhomework.com.  We were stunned! Our initial meeting was a little like being on Dragon’s Den, albeit facing a much kinder, less intimidating dragon than the TV line-up.  Two weeks later Sir Terry Leahy offered to invest in Stuck on homework – and we were in business.

Five months and ten days later, and its day one of stuckonhomework.com’s real life.  It’s been a rollercoaster from start to finish, to say the least. But the huge pay-off for all our hard work and stress was seeing for myself last night how stuckonhomework.com can genuinely help children progress with their schoolwork. I found my daughter using the site to do her Circle Theorem homework.  No shouting or tears, just calm, independent learning and successfully completed homework – parental bliss.”

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