Thomas Briggs

Portrait: Biggs
Current Workplace
Denbigh School (Part Time) and TKB Maths and Museums Educational Services (Freelance, Sole Trader)
Current Role
Part Time Teacher of Mathematics; and Freelancer offering various services related to mathematics, museums and education.
My Mathematics Success Story is...

I qualified as a teacher in 2007 and worked as a Secondary School Mathematics Teacher until the end of 2012, when I began working for the Bletchley Park Trust as their Education Officer. This was a unique role as it was advertised as requiring someone with a numerate degree (which is very unusual for museum education roles). The key function of this newly-created role was to build an outreach programme rooted in the mathematics of Bletchley Park’s story, with the famous Enigma machine as an anchor and focal point. The Bletchley Park Trust owned two real, working Enigma machines which were used in sessions with on-site school visitors, and my job was to take one of them out to schools, expanding the reach of the education programme, and to expand upon the mathematical offering, making sure it was relevant and interesting to students across the school age range.

Over the course of almost eight years I developed the Enigma Outreach programme from a one-person outfit to a small team of two Learning Officers plus me, promoted to Learning Manager. I had also become the de facto mathematics specialist for the broader learning team (and occasionally the site as a whole), making sure that the subject was represented throughout our learning offer. I visited hundreds of schools and worked with thousands of students of all ages; I helped to develop and run bespoke activities for charities, international school groups, groups of teachers, university undergraduates studying various subjects, and special events for families wanting to get into the nitty gritty of Enigma and cryptography. I even ran multiple maths-focused cryptography sessions as part of science weekends at all three of the Butlin’s holiday resorts. I’m intensely proud to say we won the School Travel Awards’ ‘Best Venue for Maths Learning’ category three years in a row. I or members of my Enigma Outreach team were often co-opted for VIP events and fundraising opportunities: most people, from primary school children to politicians and royalty are put on the same footing when it comes to cryptography, and it’s always amazing to see people of all backgrounds and with different levels of experience realising that they are capable of understanding aspects of this field that, to many, sounds like magic.

During that time, I had many amazing ‘extra-curricular’ experiences too, from occasional TV appearances (such as being interviewed by Dick & Dom for an episode of their ‘Absolute Genius’ TV series, and news reports with HRH Kate Middleton during her visits to the Park) to training the principal cast members of the movie The Imitiation Game in the use of an Enigma machine: I spent a week on set as the machine’s handler and provided advice on its use, and I can lay claim to being featured on the DVD of an award-winning movie.

In October 2020 I was made redundant from Bletchley Park following a pandemic-prompted staff restructure. At a time when many others were experiencing the same fate (especially in the Heritage sector, and especially in Learning teams) my mathematics background and teaching experience meant that I didn’t have any trouble securing work, and I started two part-time teaching posts within days of my job ending.

Given the massive shortages of mathematics teachers affecting the profession today I could have easily obtained a full-time, permanent teaching position but I chose to go back into the classroom part-time, taking the opportunity to develop a freelance business for the rest of my working week. A goal for this business is to develop real mathematical content for other museums’ learning programmes (and to help them draw it out in their collections!) but I realise that overcoming many of the misconceptions and negative attitudes that society at large has about mathematics means that goal will not be realised overnight. Two of my colleagues (who were made redundant from Bletchley Park at the same time) and I have formed a museum learning consultancy team, and we have already undertaken a number of projects together. Within these, I have been able to plant some seeds of mathematical positivity, showing how truly mathematical content can be inspiring as well as helping to expand audiences, using my previous work as a case study.

Working part-time has also given me the time to work towards a Masters in Education, which I am part-way through. Most of my assignments so far have concentrated on some combination of mathematics and museums (which I began with my Postgraduate Certificate in Digital Leadership last year), and I am working towards getting some of my work published. I am currently working on an essay that discusses how the development of growth mindsets in classrooms might be affected by parental attitudes to mathematics and suggests some strategies for working towards improving that situation.

Alternative career paths