Simon Coyle & Jonny Sobczyk

What are you leading?

The Brilliant Club is an award-winning and independently evaluated charity that exists to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to highly-selective universities in the UK. It does this by mobilising the PhD community to share its academic expertise with state schools. This year, The Brilliant Club will work with more than 10,000 pupils across England and Wales, making it the largest university access programme for secondary schools in the UK.

Since establishing The Brilliant Club in 2012, Jonny and Simon have grown a system-level organisation that is now active across the UK, working with over 30 leading universities and over 500 schools. This year, it will mobilise 600 PhD researchers to deliver programmes of university-style tutorials in those schools to over 10,000 young people. As well as operating at a national scale, The Brilliant Club also has credible evidence of impact. The average for low-income school leavers progressing to a highly-selective university is 11%. An evaluation by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) found that the average for The Brilliant Club is 58%. Further, the evaluation found that The Brilliant Club has a statistically significant impact on the likelihood a pupil will progress to a highly-selective university, compared to a control group.

Over the past few years, Simon and Jonny have received significant interest from education leaders, PhD researchers and school teachers from around the world who are interested in the possibility of replicating The Brilliant Club’s proven model in other countries. In response to this, Simon and Jonny have set up a new social enterprise called AccessEd to support the growth of Brilliant Club-style programmes across the world. AccessEd is now running pilot programmes in the USA and South Africa, and is actively looking for partners in new countries.

How did your experiences as a fellow inspire or prepare you for what you’re doing now?

Jonny: Simon and I founded The Brilliant Club as a result of our experiences teaching in low-income communities, through the Teach First programme. As classroom teachers we recognised the barriers that students from under-represented backgrounds face in accessing university, and started an after-school project called The Brilliant Club at London Academy, Edgware. That grassroots project sought to utilise our experience of working in schools serving challenging communities, alongside the expertise and passion of PhD students, who we recruited to deliver programmes of academic enrichment to high potential pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds

Simon: It goes without saying that The Brilliant Club and AccessEd would not exist without Teach First. It was through Teach First that Jonny and I met and forged a partnership.Our experience of teaching in inner-city London schools gave us the understanding of the university access gap and the motivation to address it. When we made the decision to leave the classroom and establish The Brilliant Club, Teach First offered significant operational support, most importantly office space in Central London for our first two years.

We were also able to leverage the Teach First school network to make the initial connections we needed to pilot the programme. Carly Mitchell, an 05 alumna, was working as an Assistant Headteacher and let us pilot our idea for PhD researchers delivering university-style tutorials in her school in North London. A significant number of our team are Teach First alumni, a number are in leadership positions within the charity. We also continue to work in a formal partnership with Teach First. Through this partnership they provide us with significant support in developing new school partnerships and in operational areas such as offering coaches to our staff.

What's next?

Simon: The Brilliant Club’s new strategy focuses on delivering consistent outcomes for pupils. We believe that prioritising outcomes will give coherence to our efforts to grow and improve our programmes, enhance our partnerships and uphold our commitment to financial sustainability. We aim to show that we have supported 6,500 pupils from under-represented backgrounds to secure a place at a highly-selective university by 2021.In order to track the number of our pupils that progress to highly-selective universities - and to demonstrate that our support has been instrumental - we will undertake a series of evaluations, culminating in the publication of a randomly controlled trial by 2021.

Accurate estimates on the number of PhD students are hard to find, but a reasonable figure is 1,000,000 across the world at any given time. On this basis, if AccessEd develops to a point where it mobilises 1% of this group once a year – as The Brilliant Club has done in the UK – it could reach 120,000 young people from under-represented backgrounds each year.

The potential for AccessEd to grow in this way is significant. In just 10 years, Teach for All has expanded to 40+ member organisations, demonstrating how models that are proven in one country can be rapidly scaled. Our ambition for AccessEd is to grow to 10 member organisations within next five years. Using The Brilliant Club’s trajectory as an example, this would imply working with 25,000 young people from under-represented backgrounds by 2022.

Jonny: Having co-founded and scaled The Brilliant Club, I stood down in 2017 after 5 years to take up a new challenge and was appointed as CEO of The Peter Jones Foundation for Enterprise. At the FFE we are working to build the country’s leading enterprise experience.  Having started my first business at the age of 12 and since founded and led both commercial ventures and not-for-profit organisations, I am passionate about enterprise and entrepreneurship. Having trained and worked as a classroom teacher in one of the country’s poorest communities, I am equally passionate about the difference meaningful education can make. I was delighted to accept the role at the Peter Jones Foundation as I am committed to improving the life chances of the young people we work with and believe developing a national enterprise programme is an effective way to do this.

Alumni info

Partner

Alumni Cohort

2008

Current Home

London, England

Subject(s) Taught

Simon: Citizenship and History, Jonny: Citizenship

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Leadership Journey

1997

Jonny starts his first business selling Cricket Bats.

2008

Jonny and Simon join the Teach First leadership development programme as teachers in London. Both achieve Qualified Teacher Status with ‘Outstanding’ grades.

2010

Simon and Jonny develop the idea for The Brilliant Club and set up the first pilot.

2012

The Brilliant Club was registered with charities house and took on its first full time members of staff.

2013

The programme reaches 3,000 pupils per year, through partnerships with highly selective universities.

2014

Simon and Jonny are listed in the UKs top 10 young social entrepreneurs and listed by the Observer in ‘Britain’s 50 New Radicals'.

2015

First AccessEd pilot in Washington DC, working with two middle schools.

2016

The Brilliant Club wins The Guardian Charity of the Year and listed in the top 1% of fast growth social enterprises.

2016

Impact evaluation by UCAS shows that the programme has a statistically significant positive impact compared to a control group.

2017

Having scaled The Brilliant Club with Simon to work with 1 in 10 UK schools, employing 50 full time staff and over 500 PhD tutors and serving over 10,000 pupils, Jonny stands down as CEO and is appointed as CEO of Peter Jones Foundation.

Support

2011

After piloting the programme with one school in North London, Simon & Jonny win the inaugural Teach First Innovation Award with prizes of some small seed funding and office space to help them to develop the project further.

2012

Published The Path to Sustainability and won founding grant of £100,000 from Sutton Trust.

2014-17

The Brilliant Club works in formal partnership with Teach First who endorse the programme to Teach First network of schools, make introductions and provide continual support to help scale the program.