As published in the Northern Echo.
It’s not quite the same as selling coals to Newcastle but it does perhaps seem counter-intuitive for an elite British International School in Oman to be buying literacy tuition expertise from an English company.
Claire Preston is the chief operations officer of Sound Training, a successful exporter of an innovative literacy system, Lexonik, which is blazing a trail in overseas markets. The business which she runs with its founder, dyslexia specialist Katy Parkinson, is growing year on year as more people recognise the benefit from its boost to reading levels, regardless of age or ability.
However, her career didn’t start in this type of education field. She said: “I’ve always been keen to support people who are disadvantaged in some way and spent some time working in adult training for Scope. This was followed by time overseas where I taught English in Tokyo and Barcelona.”
On returning to the UK Claire Preston then moved into the hospitality sector and helped manage the roll out of the award-winning, The Real Greek restaurant into a thriving chain across London. She said: “I learnt a huge amount from my time with this company. Standardisation and quality assurance was key, as was making sure the values and personality of the business were clearly understood by everyone. I was totally fascinated by the business, the multicultural teams and the restaurants which each had their own unique setting and character. It was a real training ground on how to scale up a business.”
Once she had her daughter she decided to move back to her native North East and studied teaching at Teesside University. She met Katy Parkinson as she completed her degree, who was just starting her business and the pair hit it off and developed a plan for the company, to spread the advantages of their particular brand of reading tuition.
Lexonik trains teachers to improve literacy in a very specific and prescriptive way. It focusses on phonology, reading fluency and etymology, giving even the most experienced teachers new strategies to support underachieving students.
She said: “Sound Training had a very clear plan in those early days, over six years ago we intended to develop along the East Coast mainline of England! Our plans were thrown off course, in a good way, when we had initial enquiries from all over the country. We won business from the Isle of Wight, London and Penzance for example. It was due to this and the impact we had in every location that we decided to go even further and try our hand at the international marketplace.
“With the support of the Department for International Trade we attended an international education conference in Denver and found that the same problems with literacy existed - which our teaching could help tackle. Fortunately, in the subsequent months our extensive travels and tenacity paid off when met really innovative leaders there who were very keen to use us. We then launched a pilot schemes in San Francisco and Portland and the Panhandle area of Florida. Lexonik is now being delivered in Oman, Dubai, Qatar, with imminent Trade Missions planned to Riyadh and Hong Kong over the next few weeks. There are also discussions taking place with schools in Germany, Abu Dhabi, Kuala Lumpur and China.”
Claire is now in discussion with other schools in Florida and Texas on a wider scale as well as American prison authorities, following a successful project to improve literacy in Holme House Prison, Stockton and other reform prisons.
The company has helped over 60,000 students so far and in just six weeks, people who use the Lexonik system find their reading age improved by an average of 27 months.
Claire Preston said: “I get tremendous satisfaction from leading this business which is raising literacy and confidence levels as well as improving career and life opportunities. In an ideal world, we would want everyone to be able to read easily and for pleasure. It really does transform lives.”