Currently just 10-15 percent of children in care in the UK achieve five A*-C grades at GCSE. We talk to Paul Singh about how his social enterprise, Equal Education, is working to help improve their prospects
The Good Business column catches up with people who are leading social change. It’s been created in collaboration with Impact Hub Islington, a co-working and business incubation space in London for socially minded entrepreneurs.
Viviana: Hi Paul, can you tell me about Equal Education?
Paul: Equal Education is a social enterprise committed to improving the outcomes of children in care. We do this by providing them with one-to-one tuition to improve their educational outcomes and give them better chances in life. A lot of them get really bad school results. Their GCSE attainment an average of 45-50 per cent lower than their peers, with just 10-15 per cent of those in care achieving five good A*-C grades. Another thing we do is partner with other organisations to give them opportunities beyond care. We talk to universities, charities and science organisations – we try to connect these children with those programmes.
How did it all begin?
Originally, I was a chemical engineer, and I used to work for Unilever in ice cream research.
I was working in the Research and Development department and there I came into contact with a corporation that wasn’t just acting for profit, but also had social and environmental objectives. I enjoyed Unilever, but I didn’t want to sit at the computer all day crunching numbers. Once back home, I decided to try teaching. I worked in a school in my local area which had a large demographic from deprived areas, and in the evening I worked as a private tutor in Chelsea and Kensington. So I’ve seen these two worlds. I felt there were resources, but they were not going to places where they were needed. I had this idea of helping children in care and I was very surprised that something tailored to their needs didn’t exist already. I thought, “I am still young [he was 24 at the time], let me try something new and see what I can do.” However, I would be lying if I said: “Yes, it has gone exactly how I planned.”
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What have been your biggest challenges?
One of the biggest challenges was myself. When you own a business you learn so much about yourself, about all the stuff that’s weak or things that you can ignore when you work for a big company. I started working with one client, Islington Council. And, it sounds silly, but I was afraid to call other clients. It was working well, but it wasn’t reaching all the children in London or in the UK. So, one of the biggest challenge was to overcome my personal challenges.
What has been your biggest success so far?
To realise that I had gone outside my comfort zone and the good response from people that want to be part of this project. I started with five tutors in 2012 and now have almost 100 working with more than ten councils.
Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
Here in the UK we have a fostering arrangement and money to invest, but you’ve got other countries where no-one cares about these children. They are just considered orphans. Education is not even on the agenda so what I’d like to do is to send tutors from here to India and Africa and build a team of full-time employees to take Equal Education worldwide. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but by bringing the right people together I am sure we can.
What’s the best piece of advice you have been given?
There are so many to choose from. I think the best thing to do is to make sure you always have a ‘non-zero’ day. When you start out you take on multiple roles, which can become overwhelming, but a ‘non-zero’ day means that you have at least one thing that you want to get done and you do it.