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Entrepreneurship and Education

There are those that assert that schools are failing to prepare students adequately for the world of work. Some believe that ‘teaching entrepreneurship’ is an oxymoron, and that schools, far from developing useful skills, push students along ever narrowing channels of learning, killing the sapling of entrepreneurial skill before it has had time to take root.

To these people, I would say, ‘visit some of our modern business academies and see how they are delivering the outcomes you desire’. There are so many methods being used to gear students up to the requirements of an ever-changing jobs market that it would take weeks to fully describe the excellent work in progress.

Schools recognise that the concept of a ‘job for life’ is outmoded, and that versatile, self-motivated and resourceful individuals are needed to take businesses to new heights in a global market.

Entrepreneurship is defined as ‘the capacity and willingness to develop, organise and manage a business venture along with any of its risks in order to make a profit’ (www.businessdictionary.com). Whilst only some of the skills needed can be taught directly in a classroom, many schools are now offering a wide range of opportunities to students. Activities delivered through specific days, or through extracurricular activities and visits, stand alongside curriculum innovation as a means to make our youngsters business savvy.

It is, I think, fair to say that some commentators have a very narrow view of teaching, and have failed to understand the many ways teachers now seek to engage students.

Using the business academy in which I teach as a model, I can illustrate the many ways in which entrepreneurial skills are delivered.

Entrepreneurial skills involve seventeen different characteristics according to www.entrepreneur.com. These, in their order, together with the way they are delivered in my school, are:

  1. Managing money. Students regularly participate in the ‘Tenner Challenge’, a young enterprise project in which students ask for a tenner a head as start up capital for a group venture. The team have to submit a business proposal, state who the personnel in their group are and their roles in the venture, and say how they propose to grow their business and make money. They then have a four week period in which to realise their business and generate maximum profit. In our school, it is a requirement that the initial funding is repaid and all profits go to charity. My school has an excellent record in this competition and have been outright winners in the past.
  2. Raising money. A variety of strategies to raise funds have been used at my school, including sponsorship, share issues, and requests for financing submitted to charitable trusts. Students are encouraged to find revenue streams for their business activities from many sources. One group of students fund-raise throughout the year to provide a day out for students with special needs from a local school. Another group fund raise to provide a Christmas party for the local elderly.
  3. The ability to use stress positively. Students take part in a wide variety of business based competitions. They have to work to deadlines, and often have to make presentations using IT skills, standing in front of an audience to deliver their proposals. We regularly participate in public speaking competitions, and have participated in mock trials, acting as magistrates to decide the outcome of a case.
  4. Productivity. Students have to produce artefacts for sale at our regular ‘E’ days which take place monthly. These can be goods or services and once again, funds raised are donated to charity.
  5. Making social contacts. Students are offered many opportunities to take part in activities with other schools. We regularly participate in STEM activities, which are often team challenges, such as the ‘Tank Challenge’ run by Bovington Tank Museum, or the ‘Bloodhound SSC Challenge’ to design rocket powered vehicles. We are also an International College, and offer exchange visits abroad, and welcome both staff and students from the European Union for regular visits and to take part in joint activities. We use videoconferencing to maintain contact with our visitors.
  6. Identify strengths and weaknesses. All students are offered mentoring sessions and target-setting twice a year, in addition to targets set in individual lessons. Some key stage 4 students also opt to take part in ELLI mentoring, a seven dimensional approach that seeks to develop student independence, enabling them to use a variety of approaches to identify strengths and weaknesses, and plan strategies for improvement. All students are taught via BLP (building learning power) and are encouraged to use a multidimensional approach to problem solving.
  7. Using people effectively. Once again, the value of assigned roles in business ventures like the Tenner Challenge helps to develop effective management. Students are also given responsibility in the decision making processes in school, being involved in basic decisions via the school council, to staffing decisions in which teachers being interviewed for SLT positions face an interview panel composed of students.
  8. The ability to train others and share good practice. Student mentors are used to support younger pupils in their business ventures. We have specific prefects that take on the role of business managers and advisers. Students may also take part in staff training days and CPD sessions, and students regularly present their ideas and achievements in staff briefing sessions.
  9. Managing staff. Students take on many roles through school activities. They plan and deliver activities (such as discos and entertainment activities) as a team. Students are encouraged to try out different roles, and to find where their personal strengths lie. Local businesses run mock interviews to prepare students for college, and we have an excellent citizenship programme that explains roles in business and government.
  10. Using SEO and digital marketing. My school has an excellent record with innovative IT. One of our early business ventures was the ‘Internet Rangers’ later rebranded as ‘Digisteps’. This offered retired and elderly members of the community free IT training, which was delivered by students over several years. We are one of the first schools in the country equipped with 3D cinema technology to broaden the educational experience. We also have an Eduprint facility and produce our own high quality posters and displays.
  11. The ability to split test.(running an activity in two ways). In all subjects we try to encourage the design of a range of options from which the best outcome is decided. All technology subjects produce coursework that requires the consideration and evaluation of different approaches. Students use a wide range of mind-mapping techniques to help develop alternatives. We are a recognised ‘Thinking Skills’ school.
  12. Social networking. Students use video conferencing, and are taught in IT about social networking, as well as data protection issues and effective use of technology. Issues of misuse of social networking (sexting/cyber bullying etc) are also addressed in both IT lessons and through citizenship programmes.
  13. Customer focus. Students learn advertising methods in business lessons, and are involved in delivering product to customers. For example, all our drama productions have a student-designed advertising campaign, with all artwork produced in house.
  14. Closing a sale. Students have input from business partners in which methods of achieving business success are covered. Art students produce artwork for sale, and advertise their wares at an in house art exhibition. Students involved in the Tenner Challenge have to make the necessary sales to generate profits. Our regular E days also have to generate profits to be given to charity.
  15. Dealing with failure. Mentoring sessions allow students to both celebrate success and devise paths forward from failed enterprises. There is a culture in our school that FAIL stands for First Attempt In Learning, and that success is not achieved without setbacks.
  16. Spotting new trends. We are a highly innovative school, and our record with the Tenner Challenge, GEE week activities (Global Entrepreneurship Education), Digisteps and many other ventures is second to none. We have been involved in Earth Project Education, and have displays in school detailing our commitment to the environment at both a local and global level.
  17. Improving the world. The students that leave our school have a wealth of experience to help them take their place as Global Citizens. In addition to the projects mentioned so far, in recent years we have joined EU projects to raise the number of multilingual teaching staff, carried out teacher exchanges in a number of countries, delivered International Days to broaden students knowledge, and taken on the challenge of IMYC, a curriculum that has at its heart an innovative approach to middle years education. One of the units currently being delivered is the History of Entrepreneurship, in which the contributions of famous entrepreneurs to economic growth is studied. In addition, our Project Emerge group have raised money to be a significant lender for KIVA in the UK. (KIVA make loans to people globally who have no access to traditional banking systems. The idea is to finance profit-making ventures to lift people out of poverty).

I would argue that taking all our ventures together, we give students an excellent background in entrepreneurial skills. We involve students as much as possible in guiding their own education. We seek to offer every opportunity for them to develop as individuals and as members of a team. We accept challenges that will stimulate their interests and develop their learning. We offer rewards for success, both through conventional exam results, and through the use of Vivo reward points (that have a monetary value), as well as recognising achievement through house and subject awards. In short, we act as a business ourselves, working as a committed team, offering the best quality product we can to our students.