With over 45 years of teaching between them, it was while teaching in a special school for children with Dyslexia that Sarah Watchorn and Sarah McGuire realised there was a lack of appropriate teaching materials as well as a lack of trained teachers for children with Dyslexia. This inspired them to write their own programme and to co-found The Reading Academy.
1. To someone who may not be aware, describe what The Reading Academy does?
The Reading Academy provides specialised solutions for children with dyslexia and training for teachers so that they can then teach the programme to children with dyslexia.
2. How did two teachers get to co-founding their own business?
Together we have over 45 years teaching children with dyslexia. We both worked in a special school for children with dyslexia. One of us was the Deputy Principal and then the Acting Principal for a time. The school had to turn away so many children with dyslexia, simply because they didn’t have enough places for them. That’s when we realised we could set up our own centres and teach using our own programme.
3. How did the company begin and how has it grown since?
We started with 2 centres (Greystones, Co Wicklow and Monkstown, Co Dublin). We soon saw the demand nationally so we began to offer classes online, and have continued to do so. Over 250 students have used our programme, and we have trained over 25 teachers. Our next teacher training course begins at the end of April. We are very excited that we will soon be launching our software, ‘MyWordPal’ which will mean we can reach individuals with Dyslexia across the globe, allowing more people with Dyslexia the opportunity to learn how to read.
4. Did you receive any support in the early days of the company in terms of grants etc? Have you received any since?
We were part of the Empower programme from GMIT and since then we joined the New Frontiers Programme and we recently secured the Competitive Start Fund. We also received an online trading voucher.
5. What have been some of the biggest highlights since launching?
Feedback that we have received from parents and teachers about how their children/students have learned how to read from using our programme. Building our own software, MyWordPal so that our programme can be available globally.
6. What have been some of the biggest challenges since launching?
Any tips for others considering starting their own business? By far the biggest challenge has been time- we both have families and have been working on other jobs simultaneously. It’s so important to stay very organised. Time management is essential.
7. How did you go about putting your board and team together?
We received mentoring on the New Frontiers Programme that was fantastic and that led to networking and meeting people who gave us great advice about building out our board. We now have our advisory board put together and are growing our team.
8. What effect did the pandemic have on your service?
We were fortunate as we were able to transfer online seamlessly. We had our resources online and the children were able to access this. A positive was that our students didn’t have to travel for their lessons; they could take part in the programme online. But a negative of this is, that this isn’t as effective and children were burnt out from homeschooling. We’ve now had 2 years online but we want to get back to face to face. Another positive is that we’ve trained teachers throughout Ireland and the UK on our programme and that’s been really successful.