Before our partner schools begin our lesson-time entrepreneurship projects or challenge days, we are often asked to do a launch assembly to excite and motivate the students taking part. This is the part of my job I particularly enjoy – my 10 minutes in the spotlight, where I introduce students to the world of entrepreneurship. It’s here that I’ll ask ‘Who’s heard of Alan Sugar, Mark Zuckerberg or Richard Branson?’ ‘What do they do?’ At this point hands shoot up across the hall and I have crossed the first hurdle of engagement.
The next question I’ll ask is. ‘Who knows how they started out?’ Fewer hands up this time but I’m more than happy to help out. The answer is that they all started young – entrepreneurship is not just something people do when they are older, it’s also something young people can do, and do brilliantly too.
Business in Schools
So unsurprisingly, when the BBC’s School Report interview with Richard Branson hit the air waves, I was all ears. Not only were students asking the questions, but entrepreneurship was top of agenda . According to Mr. Branson
“… the best way of learning to run a business is actually to run a business as part of the school curriculum, if everybody just set up a little business within their school – it could maybe even be a fictional business, with fictional money and so on.”
Enabling Enterprise grew out from the observation of how detached a purely theoretical approach to business education can be. When our director, Tom Ravenscroft, was teaching his BTEC Business Studies class, he realised that learning how to complete invoices or purchase order notes would not help his students gain a real grasp of what businesses do. As for myself, I have worked for a start-up social enterprise for almost two years now, and I’m yet to complete a purchase order note or an invoice, whereas I constantly have to work with others and come up with creative solutions.
Enterprise More Than Entrepreneurship
But before we get carried away and insist that every child starts a business, it’s important to recognise that enterprise and entrepreneurship are not the same thing.
To our minds, entrepreneurship is just one subset of being enterprising – in that it is applying a broader set of enterprise skills to the particular challenges of setting up a business. So, the bigger question is how to bring enterprise into the curriculum, rather than just thinking about business start-up.
Enabling Enterprise approaches this by creating a series of lesson time projects – whether creating a radio show in English, or setting up a fashion show in French lessons, or inventing a new product in science. Each project is linked to a business, so they are linked to the real world too.
But teaching enterprise cannot just be in a classroom. If you want to learn to drive a car, you need to sit directly in the driver’s seat. Similarly, to give students a full experience of enterprise, we need to get them into board rooms, design labs, construction sites, trading floors and shop floors, so they can see the full picture. This is where entrepreneurs and employers like Mr. Branson have a big part to play.
Putting It Into Action
On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of seeing two founding entrepreneurs of SMEs in the West Midlands guide teams of 8 year olds through setting up a fictional business like the one Richard referred to. The teams had fictional money which they invested in real resources and to make original and thought through products at a profit before presenting back their work. No one could have taught those teams better than adults who live and work in the world of business.
The students went back to school not only with a better understanding off their skills but with an insight into the entrepreneurial mind. What will be transformational though, is that this is only part of a long journey. By developing their lesson time projects each week, building their experiences of the world of work, and their own aspirations, these children are on a truly transformational journey.
And by developing that set of skills, experiences and aspirations, entrepreneurship will be just one of the opportunities open to them in an exciting, fulfilling future.
You can find out more about Enabling Enterprise’s Impact Tools and skills assessment here.