It’s a huge honour to be recognised alongside the very best in British business. It’s quite overwhelming.
Ten years ago, when maths teacher Bruno Reddy came up with a novel way of teaching times tables to his pupils, he could never have dreamed how far his idea would go.
It was announced this week that Times Tables Rock Stars – the maths app that grew from his original concept – is to be recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise.
Coincidentally, the news came as record-breaking numbers of children began using TT Rock Stars – and sister platform NumBots – due to the coronavirus outbreak forcing schools to close their doors.
The award for innovation took Bruno by surprise. “I’m absolutely chuffed to bits,” he said. “It’s a huge honour to be recognised alongside the very best in British business. It’s quite overwhelming.”
The award goes to Maths Circle Ltd, the business Bruno founded to run TT Rock Stars and NumBots, and Bruno said: “We’re just a little business and in my head I’m still a teacher, so I feel quite humbled that the work we have done as a team has been recognised at such a prestigious level.
“We’ve won a few awards, but this is by far the hardest to win in terms of the strength and size of the field, the things we had to do to be eligible. We’re absolutely honoured, privileged and proud.”
The success comes from humble beginnings, a decade ago. “RockStars was started on a whim one dark October half term and it was never intended to be anything like this,” Bruno explained. “It just started in Excel and with a rock star name generator and a PDF printer and a very basic website that I cobbled together. If I had a crystal ball back then I wouldn’t have believed it – I’d have thrown it out of the window.”
Bruno began expanding TT Rockstars into more schools after receiving funding from SHINE’s Let Teachers SHINE competition, which supports teachers to develop their ideas.
“What SHINE gave me, as much as anything, was the confidence that this could be bigger,” Bruno said. “That endorsement allowed me to go forwards with it and the money was there as a reserve to call on if need be. I was lowering the risk, which gave me the confidence to take Rock Stars to the next level.”
Now used by between 75 and 85 per cent of the UK’s schools, the platform has undergone constant development and now uses artificial intelligence to tailor the questions and learning to the individual child, adapting to their progress and developing their confidence.
It has become even more popular since schools were closed at the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
“Before this happened, on a normal day we’d have 180,000 different children playing over the course of a day and on a busy day, such as when we’re running a national competition, we’d have had 250,000 children in a day but during the first week of the coronavirus we were seeing 450-480,000 children a day. So, we suddenly doubled compared to our busiest time. On Numbots that actually increased six times.
“Over the course of five days we had more than a million different children playing.”
Initially, the company’s systems struggled with the huge increase in demand, but Bruno’s team moved quickly, optimising the code and upgrading the capacity of servers. “It was a good pressure-test for our infrastructure in the first week and we responded very well to that as a team,” said Bruno. “We’ve got more powerful servers so we’re ready to scale up even further.
“By Thursday of that first week we were totally fine because we’d worked out where things were crumbling and had put it right.”
Maths Circle has offered schools up to 60 days full free access to both its online maths platforms to help with remote learning during the Covid-19 outbreak. Meanwhile schools that already subscribe are receiving premium features at no extra cost.
“It was the right thing to do,” said Bruno. “The idea behind our business was always to help kids, so that every child could leave school saying, ‘I was good at maths’. If it had been about the money our price point would be very different, but we’ve always tried to offer the best possible service at the lowest possible price.”
Bruno hopes the award from the Queen is a “double win”. He believes it will help him increase the impact of the platforms, particularly overseas. Additionally, it will give his team “a great sense of pride for receiving recognition for all their hard work”.
Now Bruno and his team have a trip to Buckingham Palace to look forward to later in the year.
“Best wishes to Her Majesty on her birthday,” said Bruno, “and thank you to the decision makers who saw fit to award us this honour.
“We’ll keep doing what we do. We love it. And we hope that we’re making a difference at this difficult time.”
If teachers would like to sign up their school for free access, they should visit https://www.ttrockstars.com/page/covid19support