What happens in schools determines to a large extent what happens in people’s lives. Schools are where our world views are constructed, where we learn what is possible and what is not, where we develop the competencies needed to fulfil our life ambitions.
The task of creating a more entrepreneurial society therefore naturally starts here. Indeed, it’s the reason why so many enterprise support organisations operate in the education sector. MyBnk, Enabling Enterprise, Gazelle, Young Enterprise – all of these plough serious efforts into promoting entrepreneurship in schools up and down the country.
I was surprised then to hear at an event I recently attended that nobody at all in the Department for Education has a remit to work on this issue. I had already heard from a civil servant at BIS that DfE had other priorities, yet still this is very surprising. Not least because No 10 has worked so hard to put business and enterprise at the centre of its policy agenda. It’s no coincidence that David Cameron chose the theme of ‘aspiration nation’ for his speech at this year’s Conservative Party spring conference.
This is all for good reason. Though some may dispute it, entrepreneurship is an important vehicle for change. It creates employment where none else is available, and drives innovation where markets are stagnant. Much more than this, it gives meaning to people’s lives and allows them the freedom to do as they wish. For this reason alone we should be promoting it among young people.
Currently, however, too few are being exposed to high quality enterprise education. According to research by RBS and the Prince’s Trust, nearly three quarters of NEET young people say they received no business training whatsoever while in school. Recent research by the Carnegie Foundation reveals much the same result. Only half of the FE students they surveyed said they’d been exposed to enterprise education while studying.
These responses may exaggerate the facts. No doubt most schools would say they provide some form of enterprise activity for their students. But they do reveal something about the content of what is available. Indeed, there are numerous questions over the quality, not just the quantity, of enterprise education in schools. There are concerns, for instance, that too much effort is spent on teaching entrepreneurial skills via ‘chalk and talk’ methods, at the expense of ‘learning by doing’ approaches that give young people direct experience of working in a business. Likewise, there are complaints that enterprise teaching can be too mechanical and overly directed, leaving no time for reflection.
Although it is not hard to understand why head teachers might direct shrinking resources into other activities, it does not mean poor or non existent enterprise education should be condoned. High quality enterprise education should be a right for every child, no matter what school they go to. Not least because the skills derived from it – networking, creativity and acting on opportunities – will be essential for every career, not just for starting a business. As an OFSTED report put it, “… only a small proportion of the working population will become entrepreneurs [but] all adults need to be enterprising both in their work and their personal lives.”
There are numerous ways to encourage and support schools to do more around entrepreneurship, but they are all undermined if the Department for Education doesn’t even bother promoting it. So come on Michael Gove, recruit someone to work on enterprise education. It could be the cheapest, most simplest thing to help more young people in the UK start and run successful businesses.