Enterprise Education in schools; does it really matter?

Written by Philip Clegg


EEUK Chair Gareth Trainer recently wrote a letter to Ofsted, highlighting our collective concerns for the proposed removal of the National Lead for Economics, Business and Enterprise. This follows a discussion I had started with Gareth some time ago now, voicing my own concerns about enterprise education in schools, as I became more aware of the current standards, prioritisation and limitations of the situation in England, as compared with other UK countries. But is the compulsory education arena, really EEUK business, when our focus has always been FE & HE? Rather than write perhaps the shortest EEUK Director blog ever, and simply post the word ‘yes’, I offer here an explanation of my personal feelings, and why I feel that we absolutely should care.


Why does enterprise education in the schools context matter to me?

Whilst not professing to be an expert in the detailed politics and regulations surrounding enterprise education in our schools in the UK, I do care passionately about the fact that whatever exposure children and young adults have to EntEd in their formative years, will have a direct influence and impact on the students we eventually work with in both Further, and Higher Education. I am acutely aware that the EntEd opportunities those pupils have access to, (certainly in England) are not as credible, varied and engaging as they could be.  For example, enterprise education in England has been characterised as  ‘business games and competitions’, which presents enterprise as an extra-curricular competitive activity, something that most likely happens outside of the proper curriculum. Naturally, this will ultimately influence the attitudes of students, their understanding of the benefits of EntEd and their receptiveness to it. With that in mind, I think that we would be foolish not to examine and try to support improvements in the ‘up-stream’ educational pipeline.


What would a good enterprise education experience in schools ‘look like’ to me?

We understand that the graduates our universities have supported, will need to be agile, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial, in order to be responsive to the many challenges and opportunities of their future career paths. Whilst these are exactly the types of attributes which are aimed to be developed through EntEd, if a pupil’s early experience of such interventions is having a negative experience, creating a sense of, “this isn’t for me,” or, “I’m not suited to this type of activity,” then they may well elect not to participate in enterprise education available to them in future years. Consequently, I feel very strongly that any EntEd interventions being delivered in schools, are positive, varied, engaging and inclusive, to ensure that the next generation of students arrive at university, receptive and open-minded to the broadest range of educational opportunities.


Are students arriving at universities with misconceptions about EntEd?

Whilst I have not (yet!) conducted specific research into this question, I think that it would be worth exploring the possibility that one of the reasons that students may elect not to engage in some extra-curricular types of activities and opportunities at university, is because they have previously had a negative experience in what they consider to have been ‘enterprise education’ in school.  When enterprise is always (or mostly) delivered as a Dragon’s Den or some other type of challenge or competition, we should be aware that such approaches inevitably create not only ‘winners’, but also, ‘losers’. Whilst accepting that competitiveness is part of life, such competitions represent only a fraction of the myriad of EntEd opportunities and interventions. But if this is a student’s only exposure to what they understand to be EntEd, then what kind of misconceptions are being built up?  I don’t think we should wait for substantive research into this agenda to be conducted and published before taking action; we can start to question, explore and understand more and feed into this agenda now.


What value can EEUK bring to this agenda and to its members?

EEUK’s members are predominantly universities; however, the members are simply the conduit to the more important and massively diverse EEUK Associate network. Every member of staff in every EEUK member organisation, is an EEUK Associate. They number, even at a conservative estimate, in excess of 200,000, and with such huge numbers of Associates, there is naturally a vast amount of knowledge, expertise and desire to help find solutions to emerging issues and challenges. Furthermore, as a membership organisation, we seek to both represent and amplify the voice and views of our Associates, and so have the desire and opportunity to drive and influence positive change in this arena. This is underscored by Gareth’s letter to Ofsted, which actively invites Ofsted to engage with EEUK so that we might work collaboratively to help and assist them with their rationale for the proposed changes and its potential future impact. I would also like to extend the same invitation to the Careers and Enterprise Company, to enter similar discussions with us.


Next steps

If you would like to learn more about this agenda and the clear links between schools, and University Schools/Faculties of Education which are educating the next generation of school teachers, please join us at an EEUK Enterprise Exchange Event on April 1st at the University of Huddersfield – Strengthening the Enterprise Pipeline; The Role of Universities.

Philip Clegg

Director of Enterprise Educators UK

Head of Enterprise and Entrepreneurship, University of Huddersfield