Celebrating 20 years of Explore Learning
October 27, 2021
By Carey Ann Dodah
Two decades ago in October 2001, Explore Learning opened the doors of its very first learning centre to the families of Chelmsford, Essex. I had the privilege of being there as one of Explore’s first recruits.
Joining a start-up business was always going to be a risk. The stats show that 20% of new businesses fail in their first year and around 60% will go bust within their first three years. But, there was something about Bill Mills and his concept that convinced me, and many other more important and influential people, that this would be a success. Bill had successfully managed to pique the interests of the then Sainsbury’s CEO Sir Peter Davis, Pearson CEO Marjorie Scardino and British philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl to name a few. All of whom would provide invaluable opportunities and support in the years ahead.
Bill had a vision of providing a service that would bridge the gap between state and private education. He believed Explore would empower parents to support their child’s individual learning needs. It would be inspirational, cutting-edge, easy to access and provide the best possible complement to a child’s education. A few weeks prior to opening, our small launch team of four discussed our big dreams. We wanted it to be available to families throughout the UK, to provide exceptional employment opportunities and to make a difference to a whole generation. It is an incredible feeling to know that all of those goals have been achieved.
Where it all began
In 2001, using computers to deliver a personalised maths and English curriculum was a very novel idea. Tuition was something delivered in the home or sometimes in church halls or community centres. It was not something you got during your weekly shop at the supermarket and it was not something that children generally wanted to do!
We opened our first tuition centre right next to the front entrance of the Sainsbury’s supermarket in Chelmsford. It was bright, vibrant, full of computers and quite intriguing. Parents loved the idea that they could drop their child off whenever they wanted for an enriching activity after school or at the weekend. Their child could hone maths and English skills whilst they completed the weekly shop – they didn’t need to sit in their car waiting for a club to finish.
Before long parents realised that this wasn’t just convenient and a bit of distraction for their kids. They realised that their children were changing; they were growing in confidence, they were performing better at school, they were motivated to learn and wanted to do more!
Children skipped into Explore, excited to see their tutors, hoping to earn more lizard cards and looking forward to being allowed to ‘surf the web’ in the designated ‘surf club’ at the end of their session. (To be honest, there wasn’t a lot on the internet to look at in those days – children mainly played PC games such as Rollercoaster and Zoo Tycoon, Tetris and Solitaire). They told us about the questions they’d been able to answer at school because of our maths and English tuition and we celebrated with high fives and warm applause. Word of mouth got out and demand for Explore began to grow.
Explore Learning Today
Today, Explore Learning employs nearly 4000 exceptional people in the UK and delivers tuition to over 20,000 families every week. Over the two decades, we have worked with more than 300,000 children and their families. We have run national competitions for creative writing with renowned authors like David Walliams. We have held maths challenges with NRICH and the University of Cambridge. We have celebrated learning with thousands of schools throughout the country. We have been honoured with awards such as ‘Best tuition centre provider’ and recognised as one of the best companies to work for in the UK.
From simple beginnings, we are making a meaningful difference to the great people that work for us and the thousands of children who receive tuition every week. We continue to be innovative and cutting-edge. In the last year alone we have launched a new adaptive curriculum that allows us to deliver quality tuition courses in our centres and also at home. We have a membership tool that provides real-time feedback on each child’s progress and have adapted our service to meet the changing habits of our members. We continue to strive to be the best possible complement to each child’s education.
The secrets of our success
I believe there are a few things that helped Explore Learning to beat the odds and continue to ensure our ongoing existence now.
- We care.
We genuinely care about every child and every family that we meet. We want to understand them, we listen to their needs and challenges. We do everything we can to support them. We don’t always get it right and when that happens it really hurts. We work hard to fix things and we learn from mistakes. Our greatest reward comes from reading the heartfelt reviews we receive each day.
- We are in it together.
Explore is a big family – a very big family considering there are nearly 4000 of us! There are no franchises. All centres are company owned and all members of staff are employed and looked after by Explore. There’s something very special about the people that work for Explore. There’s a certain warmth, positivity, go-getting personality that can be seen in so many of us it’s become almost a trademark. Accolades like The Sunday Times Best Companies award tell us that we’re not just imagining it!
- Promoting from within.
The majority of senior positions at Explore are filled with people that started work in our centres. For example, our Operations Director, Lisa Haycox and IT Director, Matt Evans, both started as tutors in the early days of the company. Being able to grow through the business, develop skills and knowledge to create a lifelong career path is a really special feature of working at Explore. Throughout the business there is a deep understanding of our vision and purpose. We all feel connected to the families that use our service. We all love working with children, supporting parents and can talk passionately about what we do.
- Fearless learning is cultural.
We talk to our members a lot about the learning habits that make you fearless. Not being afraid of making mistakes, seeing them as opportunities for growth, celebrating effort, believing that anything is possible. We see the benefits of embracing these attitudes every day. Our members do it and so do our tutors, our managers and all our support staff. Fearless learning happens throughout the business and it’s from this culture that challenges like the recent pandemic are overcome. Innovation is an important part of being fearless. We are constantly evolving and improving, listening and adapting to meet our families’ changing needs.
If you’re reading this right now, I’d like to thank you for your involvement with Explore. Whether you’ve worked here, been tutored here or think maybe you will in the future – thank you for your support in helping to create something wonderful.
“We’ve been using the Chelmsford centre pretty much continuously for more than 16 years, (our children are well spaced-out in ages), and I think we started in the centre’s first year of operation! Throughout that time we have found the centre to be a great place to compliment the children’s learning at school, and help them to keep up and stay ahead where they can. We’ve found without exception that the staff are lovely, and really get to know the children, and appear to genuinely care for and like their job. All 3 of our children have been inspired, and we’ve not had push-back from them effectively getting extra schooling – so clearly the centre makes it fun for them, and also it is clear that they keep stretching the children as well. The whole thing builds confidence for the children, which they take with them into adulthood. Our eldest child, (the first one who visited Explore Learning in Chelmsford), is now 24 and still fondly remembers his time at Explore Learning … If you are thinking of trusting your child to these guys – please take this as the strongest recommendation I can give!” – Trustpilot review P. Braben
If you’d like to find out more about Explore Learning, come and book a free tuition trial today.
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