Our History

Phil Hawkins, CEO and founder of Aprender, was offered a chance to take a holiday in Brazil in 2001 – an event that proved to be life changing.

Phil had been a Science teacher for many years in London and had become involved in different schemes to improve schools.

Whilst in Brazil, he visited a public school in Vitoria, pictured left, and was touched by what he encountered.

He saw classrooms with 80 students each sitting passively in sweltering conditions looking bored and restless. He met staff and school leaders who were desperate – desperate about their working conditions, about what was happening to their students, about their wages and about the need for help from outside the system.

An average teacher worked in a school in the morning, one in the afternoon and then at a pizza restaurant in the evening to survive.

These children were facing a bleak life. Failure at school would mean a life of poverty and the lure of drug gangs and people trafficking. Kids that needed the best education were not getting the quality education they needed to give them choices. This sense of injustice was a real driver for Phil and became one of our central values. This was the moment when the vision for Aprender was born.


Phil revisited Brazil a further five times, each time bringing a bigger team of teachers and helpers to see what could be done to help. Through building relationships with local organisations, they began to learn what the real problems were, what was really happening and what was really important. Together with a group of interested and passionate friends, he formed the charity Aprender.


Phil became Deputy Head Teacher in a school in Croydon before feeling the call to move into international education development.


In 2010, Phil moved to Brazil with his wife Gill and children Harry, then 7 and Evie, 6. Goiânia was chosen as it was the headquarters of Total, our Brazilian partner NGO. The family returned to the UK in 2016 and Phil now supports projects in Brazil, the Middle East and Africa.

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In 2010, a fabulous group of friends come together to form Aprender - a major step in our journey. Neil Casey becomes the chair and steers the team through the challenges of becoming a UK registered charity. Keith Creasy, Gareth Mostyn and Tom Hostler together with Flavio Guaratto, a Brazilian missionary living in the UK for the past 18 years complete the board and bring much experience, insight and support to Phil and the team. A team of amazing people join the trip this year. Ben, Liz, Louis and Darcy Cole, together with Emma Bottomley, Elaine Slade and two students from Heathside School make this year the biggest yet. Phil, Elaine and Emma arrive first and head to Uberaba to speak at the education conference. After, they travel to Uberlandia to meet up with the rest of the team. They visit schools and are invited to run a workshop for a local university which goes really well. With a brief stop off at Caldos Novas, a local hot spring, they head to Goiania to visit more schools and run an education conference at the local Sal da Terra church. They also visit many social projects and enjoy meeting wonderful hosts and friends. The team head home and Phil with his wife Gill and children Harry, then 7 and Evie, 6 fly off to Brazil to live and work there. Goiânia was chosen as it is the headquarters of Total, the partner NGO. The family are supported by Aprender and through a number of churches including Bookham Baptist Church in Surrey, UK, and Sal da Terra Church in Goiânia, Brazil. In 2011, Ben and Liz Cole with daughter Darcy move to Uberlandia to develop education in a local orphanage called Monte Moriá and to begin developing active learning workshops in government schools. They develop relationships with local universities and businesses who help to fund the growing reach of the project. They are supported by Phil and Gill in Goiania. Their work is amazing and inspirational and forms a foundation of thought that leads to the early support school model. Heathside School generously granted a year's sabbatical to Ben. The family return to the UK after 12 months leaving a legacy of research and development that continue to benefit Aprender. We are really grateful for all their support and dedication. Josebene Lima joins Total and Phil has his first opportunity to train a Brazilian in teaching and learning methodologies that have been distilled over the years. Josebene proves to be a fantastic addition to the team and brings incredible value to the team. 2012 - A year to regroup Following significant challenges with visa renewal, Phil and family need to return to the UK to regroup, arrange visas and to further develop Aprender links. One of these links is a great organisation called PiXL and Phil meets with Martin Rainsford who after hearing our story, asks Aprender to become PiXL's official representatives in Brazil. The visa process takes longer than expected. Through the depth of relationship with Total, Phil is able to obtain a working visa to develop their education projects that are also supported by Aprender. Josebene opens the first support school, funded and supported by Total, recruits the teachers, trains them and makes it all happen. This amazing task proves that the DNA can be transferred and acts as an action research case to show what can be achieved. The first results are fantastic, not just academically but in behaviour and participation at school and at home. Neil Casey and Tom Hostler step down from the Board who are very grateful for their support and sacrifice over the years. Neil Walker becomes the new chair and David Plummer joins too, both bringing business experience to the team. Phil and family return to Goiânia in May 2013. 2013 - Expansion Phil and Josebene begin the PiXL project in Jose Lopes school and help train their Portuguese and Maths teachers in year 9. The students take the national test in November and are excited about the results. The support school continues to grow and we see growth in experience and wisdom in the team. We are thrilled to receive the Davies family who throw themselves into the task and do an amazing job. Special thanks to Hazel for her support for pre-school and primary development - we are forever changed. 2014 - First fruits We begin to develop the concept of Apto which is really kick started by a visit from Richard, a head teacher working in a school for Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Following a weeks' intensive training, we receive very positive feedback and we glimpse the future potential of our school improvement model. It was great to receive both Neil Walker and David Plummer to the final part of the training so they could really see the team in action! In 2014 too, we see the first headship succession happening at the support school as Josebene trains maths teacher Levi to be the new leader. Levi has really stepped into the role well and continues to grow the vison at our education centre. In September we receive the long-awaited news of the test results for our PiXL project. The school jumps from 3.2 to 4.9 and becomes the top performing school in the city. PiXL invite head teacher Marcilene and Josebene to a conference in London in December - an event that proves to be an amazing experience for all concerned. Our support schools results are released too and we once again see positive external validation of our work with Total. The UK Board are joined by Hannah Canavan who brings her writing and social media experience to the team. 2015 - Our model develops We take a hard look at resources and plans for the future and decide that the Support School has served its purpose. We now have a name and credibility in the community and the school and decide to close the project releasing time and resource to focus on more than 1000 students at the local high school. We refine our Apto model to help coach head teachers and train teachers with great results. The network grows and we see other schools joining. Phil and Josebene are asked to help develop education amongst refugee communities in the Middle East and understand how Apto can be developed in other cultures and contexts. Things grow and we are invited to help a new Support School in a favela in Rio de Janeiro. It's a huge task but Adriane, the founder, sees the potential of Apto and invests in us as we invest in them. They begin to see results and now have a team of amazing volunteers and a head trainer who is supported by Aprender and Total. Things pick up too in the Middle east and Phil is asked to coach several head teachers of refugee schools in Lebanon. Its' a humbling experience to visit refugee camps on the Syrian border and hear the stories of lives turned upside down. We see many parallels between the different cultures and issues and our fresh and relevant approach is welcomed by the head teachers. We are thrilled to receive Mary and Waheeb Nima on to the Board. Josebene receives another invitation to come to the UK PiXL Conference in December and we get a mention from the platform in front of 2000 head teachers. What an honour!? We visit schools and gain valuable professional development. 2016 - Back to the future Josebene and the team clearly have the DNA to continue and expand the work in Brazil without the need for Phil's daily presence. This is a huge joy. The understanding has been passed on and developed together and is now sustainable in-country. The work with the Middle East continues and the family feel a call to return to the UK and use that as a base to keep supporting developments in Brazil, the UK and the Middle East. Of course, it's a sad time too as they prepare to leave such dear friends and supporters but the relationships remain. Phil and the family relocate back to the UK in April and Phil becomes an International Education Consultant working for Aprender to continue and expand the Apto model into the future.