Enterprise Education – What’s In It For You?

Enterprise education was and is a pretty hot buzz-word, with entrepreneurship now gaining more clout as a real option for students to consider. In the wake of recession, much of Britain’s growth has been down to small business owners developing new markets and giving people jobs. Not just seen as an ‘alternative’ career path anymore, today most employers consider ‘enterprise skills’ as fundamental to any employment and are crying out for schools to help develop students who are not only ‘clever’ but who have good judgment, communication skills, team work, resilience and common sense decision making capabilities.

But how much do teachers really know about it? And how well do secondary schools incorporate and deliver it? Whose responsibility is it to develop entrepreneurship? And by the way… what does it mean again?

The most recent evaluation of enterprise education was published in 2010. Research into UK schools found that at least one third of schools did not have a clear understanding of what enterprise education was meant to involve or even how to define it for their staff to deliver to students. Sadly, recent education reforms have worked at cross purposes in many ways to the budding entrepreneurship opportunities in schools. What was beginning to blossom as a new way of teaching, in many cases was trodden on in the haste of new curricula to master, new exams and higher targets.

A long term game plan, and support from the SLT are critical. Where schools have a dedicated and enthused SLT overseeing a whole school vision for enterprise education, designated coordinators have freedom and confidence to enlist support from colleagues. Enterprise coordinators have allocated time both to develop discrete enterprise days and to collaborate with heads of subject to bring entrepreneurship explicitly into all curriculum areas.

Most often, though, enterprise education is compartmentalised into one or two days off timetable per year, with an outside delivery partner running ‘innovation’ sessions with an entire year group while mainstream teachers hover in the back of the hall grabbing the extra time to mark books.

The problem with this approach, according to teachers I spoke with, is that the delivery partners aren’t trained teachers and they don’t know the kids. The best providers (and the most expensive) have experienced teachers on board, and come in to work alongside staff who have relationships with students and are able to maintain longer term discussions and follow up activities from the day. They also run workshops over two days, but that means staff and students available and off timetable for two days.

Enterprise in action

I visited a London comprehensive school to speak with their enterprise education coordinator. What surprised me, though, was how quickly the conversation came to life with a wider group of colleagues, all expressing an equally passionate view about the value of enterprise education and the need to develop it further in schools. The head of MFL, an experienced English teacher, a young LSA and the deputy head of English all brought ideas and evaluations of what they like and want to see more of across the school.

The Head of MFL pointed out the downside of some outside providers “Sometimes the tasks aren’t challenging enough and the leaders aren’t used to managing learning and behavior.”

Another colleague suggested bringing in more inspiring speakers who are real business owners rather than having kids create a new car or soft drink for a day. Someone else suggested simple adjustments to displays to include key terms associated with entrepreneurial thinking and leaders. “This isn’t hard – most of it is meant to be a part of the wider curriculum anyway.”

Is there a downside to all of this focus on entrepreneurship? What about the kids who don’t want to start their own business? They never watch the Apprentice and the biggest dragon in their life is whichever teacher last gave them a detention. I asked the enterprise coordinator for her thoughts.

“I don’t think there is ever a downside to someone learning to be more creative,” she told me. “Some people prefer the traditional way of doing things because it’s comfortable, but society now favours a dynamic, innovative team player – and that needs to be fostered. Our job is to help kids to develop their thinking and bring their ideas to life. That can never be a negative.

“For students who don’t have that ‘natural’ creative spark, it’s even more important for them to be around those who do, to be involved and learn to be able to work in creative environments alongside creative thinkers. Even if they’re not driving it forward, they will most certainly be a part of it within any company they work for – in whichever department they find themselves.”

Fresh thinking

I suppose I’m biased – a trained English teacher turned EAL coordinator, I started up a social enterprise a couple of years ago dedicated to supporting young people to develop skills in business, money and leadership. Aware of the pressures faced by educators who do care about the long term picture for their students, I wanted to support the teachers who support the students.

We decided to get kids involved in creating a business magazine for young people: Fresh Young Millionnaire. It’s a start towards both engaging reluctant readers in general and opening up ideas to students who may not have knowledge or experience of entrepreneurship. We mix up real life inspiring stories with business tips and expert advice from industry pros. Those students involved in production get industry experience with the learning embedded in the articles they write and the entrepreneurs they interview. Their UCAS statement or CV has a bit of an edge, and they gain confidence when facing challenges.

Schools subscribe to get magazines with teaching resources that they can use in lessons ; it’s easy and engaging and everybody wins. One article at a time, one conversation in morning registration, one debate about a Big Question – you get to ignite ideas, foster innovative thinking and begin to develop a world of entrepreneurial thinkers and problem solvers.

Moments That Matter Make Enterprise Easy

Most agree that entrepreneurship should be embedded across the whole curriculum, taught by all teachers. No matter what your subject, here are three simple ways to help your students develop their enterprising skills:

Talk about it!

It’s so easy to simply use associated language – entrepreneurship, innovation, creative problem solving, leadership in any subject. Science is full of innovators and entrepreneurs; historic leaders almost always show tenacity and drive.

Allow innovation

In your next lesson, whatever the task is, allow students to be more innovative in their presentation of the task. How will they prove to you that they know and understand the work? Award a prize or merit of achievement for the most creative idea.

Make it real

Most people love to hear real stories about an individual’s success. Websites and magazines like http://www.freshyoungmillionaire.com feature inspiring young entrepreneurs and legendary leaders who are making a difference in the world through their success in enterprise. Ask students how their subject skills transfer to a particular entrepreneur’s industry.

About the Author

Originally from Canada, Reesa Amadeo Wolf has been teaching in inner-London schools since 1999. Working with vulnerable young people led her to start up Fresh Young Media in 2012. The social enterprise produces a business magazine for young people: Fresh Young Millionaire, and supports teachers to inspire students and engage reluctant readers. Schools can subscribe at http://www.freshyoungmillionaire.com/ subscribe/ for copies with FREE teacher resources.