April 2, 2019

North East Times looks at some of the regional-based companies that are embracing technology to offer innovative services and support to the education and training sectors

Paul Miller
VEO Group

Paul Miller worked in teacher training and had ventured to Sub-Saharan Africa, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria on a quest to bring large-scale systematic change in the sector.

He then hit on the idea where teachers could upload training videos and tag key moments to provide valuable information.

Along with co-founder Jon Haines and Newcastle University, Paul started creating a prototype. The VEO (Video Enhanced Observation) app launched in 2016 – later becoming an online platform – to an overwhelmingly positive response from educators and trainers.

“We’re knocking down the walls of the classroom and creating an open and safe area where people can be proactive, demonstrate what they’re doing well and take an approach of continuous improvement,” says Paul.

With more than 10,000 users worldwide, VEO has now expanded its online video and data gathering tool into the healthcare and commercial markets.

VEO is also working directly with students to support clinical and business presentation training and assessments.

“Students upload videos and assessors can tag and make comments at vital points. It gives learners valuable visual feedback in terms of how they can improve,” Paul adds.

Beverley Dean and Colin Dean
Special iApps

Beverley and Colin Dean founded Special iApps as a non-profit social enterprise after they struggled to find appropriate educational apps for their son, William, who has Down syndrome and autism.

With backgrounds in IT and education, Beverley and Colin began developing apps that catered to their son’s abilities. Their first, Special Words, was launched in 2011.

Beverley explains: “I was parent-carer at the time and volunteered for several charities. I was liaising with special needs professionals, parents and children who had a range of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy and hearing and vision impairments. Everyone thought what we were doing was worthwhile and they backed us.”

Special iApps has since launched four additional apps – Special Stories, Special Numbers, Match & Find and My 1st Signs – as well as a pro version of Special Words with curriculum resources to support children in early years special needs education.

In total, Special iApps have been downloaded more than 185,000 times around the world.

Beverley and Colin have won a number of regional, national and international education and innovation awards. In 2018, Beverley also received an MBE for ‘services to exports in education technology for people with learning disabilities.’

Special iApps has received funding from North East Social Investment Fund, managed by Northstar Ventures and Beverley and Colin are now looking to build their team, develop more specialist apps and expand their reach worldwide.

Anthony Coxon and Ian Thompson

After Ian Thompson struggled to effectively support his son to revise for GCSEs, the Chartered accountant thought: “there must be a better way.”

Shortly afterwards, he met web designer Anthony Coxon and the pair began developing curriculum-based audio-visual podcasts on GCSE subjects, which students could access on their devices.

Attracting private investment for their venture, GCSEPod launched in 2008 and recruited teachers and specialist assessors to produce the content.

Initially aimed at parents, GCSEPod began marketing their digital platform to schools in 2010.

“Our first subscriber was Bedford School, an independent school for boys, and they are still subscribers,” Anthony explains.

With 45 per cent of international schools following the British curriculum, the team at GCSEPod recognised the opportunities for global growth. The company now boasts 1500 subscribers across 30 countries.

GCSEPod has won countless awards, most notably two BETT Awards, described by Anthony describes as “the Oscars of the Education sector.”

Plans for GCSEPod is to increase its pod products and their reach. The team is also looking at how the pods can be adapted for other educational levels, such as for Key Stage 3 and 4.

The founders are also keen the platform keeps pace with technological advances.

“We’re a media company who happens to operate in education,” says Anthony. “We have to adapt to changes in technology as students’ expectations are always changing.”

Martin Bailey
Animate 2 Educate

Martin Bailey dedicated his life to primary school education and 11 years into his teaching career was promoted to an assistant headship at a Gateshead school. But the pressures that came with the role took a devastating toll.

“In 2010, I came pretty close to ending my own life,” Martin reveals. “I was in a very dark place.”

A year later, Martin felt strong enough to return to the job he loved. At the same time, he decided to launch a business running technology workshops in schools.

“I’d had an interest in computing and had already been incorporating this in my teaching,” Martin says.

The teacher launched Animate 2 Education in the summer of 2011 and he now runs animation, green-screen movie making and photography workshops – and provides consultancy services – to schools across the UK and internationally. Martin continues to teach at a school for a day-and-a-half a week.

Well aware of the pressures on teachers, Martin has established Tech on the Tyne, a conference which gathers educators, businesses and tech expert to discussed EdTech opportunities. He also runs a regular ‘teachmeet’ called Talk on the Tyne, where teachers can share ideas and best practice.

While most business owners strive to scale their enterprises, Martin says he likes being a “company-of-one”.

“I’m happy where I am and if I can maintain this for the next 20 years, I’ll be delighted,” he says with a contented smile.

Chris Quickfall

Chris Quickfall is an entrepreneur who has successfully built a number of companies within the education sector. One such company worked with higher education to identify learners with hidden learning needs such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, Asperger’s and memory problems. Two years ago, Chris saw the opportunity to create an online digital platform that could offer a more accessible way of providing these services to the apprenticeship sector.

“We worked out that there were around 150,000 apprentices in the UK with hidden learning needs that were going unnoticed each year,” says Chris. “I thought if we could lower the entry point then all these apprentices could be identified and supported.”

CognAssist’s cloud-based cognitive brain profiling tool uses the latest technology, and neuropsychologist expertise, to map how fast the brain processes information from eight areas of the brain. If any weaknesses are detected, support and coping strategies can then be produced.

CognAssist has won plaudits across the UK, and the platform has recently been adopted in New Zealand.

Chris reveals that CognAssist will launch into Australia in the next six months and the aim is to move into further international markets. The 28-strong team is also working on launching the platform into other sectors, such as recruitment and mainstream education.

“We work with around 15 colleges already and a number of them want to pilot the software for their mainstream students,” Chris adds

Scroll to next article
Go to

Monthly report - April 2019