The curriculum should let the spirit of enterprise thrive

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Earlier this year, the Conservative party published chapters of their draft manifesto in order to open it up to comment from those it will affect. In it, they set out the action they perceive as needed to improve our schools, create more equal opportunities and address declining social mobility. The three main principles they want to achieve this through are: better teachers and tougher discipline; a rigorous curriculum and exam system; and giving every parent access to a good school.

John May, Chief Executive of leading enterprise education charity, Young Enterprise, discusses some aspects of the manifesto in more detail and highlights the importance of fostering enterprising skills amongst young people.

The Conservative’s draft education manifesto proposes that the primary curriculum should be organised around traditional core subjects such as Maths, Science and History. No-one can dispute the value of literacy and numeracy, or that these subjects are important to a child’s education and development. But, by maintaining a traditional focus, do we run the risk of applying too narrow an approach at such a young age?

Reverting back to traditional subjects might enable parents to identify closer with what their child is learning, as it is familiar to them, but I would argue that this is not necessarily the right thing to do if we want to progress as a society and prepare young people to succeed in tomorrow’s world.
In February last year, Professor Robin Alexander released The Cambridge Primary Review which suggested that teaching and learning in primary schools is already focused too much towards the core subjects rather than reflecting 21st century realities and needs.

It is clear that gaps exist in the current curriculum and I believe that if we move further away from developing children’s skills and more towards pure subject areas we risk creating a generation of young people ill-equipped to succeed in a modern global economy. I’m not saying every child should learn how to make money and run a business from the moment they start school but there needs to be a balance between the core curriculum and skills for enterprise and employability.

The draft manifesto does discuss freeing schools from regulatory restrictions so that they can offer workplace training, but only to engage young people who currently drift out of formal education. This is of course an important approach but, once again, I feel it is too narrow – we need to look at how bringing the workplace into school can help engage and nurture young people of all abilities. Teaching young people about the world of work, with hands-on, practical experience is vital to their development and should be available to all ages and abilities.

You only have to open any newspaper on any day to see the effects of the current economic climate on businesses across the country. Confidence is down and employment freezes have taken place in almost every industry across the UK. As a result, unemployment currently stands at almost 2.5million, with over 900,000 16-24 year-olds out of work. By fostering an enterprising spirit and encouraging our young people to think about life choices we could realistically drive the recovery forward and halt this worrying rise.

It is about allowing all young people the opportunity to make the most of their existing skills, gain experience, build confidence and create themselves a better future. Young people have been dramatically affected by the current levels of unemployment and, while it did reach record highs in 2009, a crowded labour market is not synonymous with this recession and will always be something young people face when they leave school. Providing vital business skills not only ensures a stronger work force but enterprising skills and attitudes lead to the creation of new business opportunities which create jobs and reduce unemployment. Business and education can work together to create a cycle of economic prosperity.

Industry figures released this month showed that 476,000 new businesses were set up in the first 10 months of 2009, with the full-year total likely to rise above the 525,000 start-ups for 2008. This clearly indicates that people are using enterprising skills and attitudes but we need to make sure we nurture this attitude in all our young people. Inspiring and nurturing the next generation of enterprising and employable young people is clearly vitally important to ensure that we create a sustainable future and prevent future recessions, and I believe that the benefit of sparking this at a young age should not be under-estimated.

Since taking up my post at Young Enterprise I have seen the fantastic work that our business volunteers do to encourage children from as young as primary age to think about the world around them. I understand the apprehensions people might have with teaching children as young as five about work and money, but, in our long-standing experience, allowing children to understand the options they have and introducing them to role models from the wider world of work adds considerable value to the existing curriculum. This kind of learning can take all pupils on a journey beyond their immediate classroom environment, raising aspirations and engaging with their journey through education, training and beyond.

This is not to say core subjects should be rejected, they are an integral part of learning, but taught in line with the broader experiences of enterprise and employability will ensure that young people will have the aspirations, skills and attitudes needed to succeed.

Similarly, extra effort should be made to engage young people who drift out of formal education with business skills and experience, so that new doors are open for them. By inspiring children as young as primary age about the world of work we can build a sustainable and enterprising future for the UK. It is as much about developing their attitudes and behaviours as well as their knowledge and understanding as we strive to help young people progress throughout their lives.

 John May, Chief Executive of the UK’s leading enterprise education charity, Young Enterprise