Entrepreneurship is a valuable life skill

As educators, we should look to equip the young people in our care with a wide range of skills and abilities to allow them to make the most of themselves in the adult world. Intellectually we do so through the traditional curriculum of subjects; emotionally our systems of pastoral care are designed both to build resilience and support young people when that resilience is tested; our programmes in games, PE and outdoor education all look to develop healthy physical attributes amongst our charges and spiritually we look both to enrich their lives through exposure to the performing arts and, through our Christian ethos and the work of our chaplain, to engender in them an awareness of life beyond the purely material confines of this world. It is, then, a matter of no surprise that we should also look to develop entrepreneurial skills amongst our pupils.

This is not simply the work of our business department: just as dance, for example, combines the spiritual, physical, emotional and intellectual, so do all areas of school life offer opportunities for entrepreneurship. When we study medieval life in the village of Yalding as part of the Year 7 history syllabus, for example, pupils learn about the importance of the market and its impact on everyday life; work throughout the design technology syllabus focuses on the need to meet a client’s demands in the design process. In the wider curriculum, World Challenge expeditions encourage pupils to find innovative ways of raising money to fund their participation on what can be life changing trips.

There is, however, room for a more direct focus on entrepreneurial skills in the school. As part of the Year 12 enrichment programme, students can opt to join our social enterprise programme. A recent innovation, the programme looks to link the fostering of entrepreneurial skills and talents with a concern for the wider good that is central to the Schools’ ethos. Students - 16 this year - are encouraged to use their imagination, organisational skills and marketing abilities to design and sell products as a social enterprise with all profit donated to a charity they themselves have chosen (this year North East Children's Cancer Research). The team have produced a range of products from Chromebook cases and wireless mice, to baseball caps personalised with the school logo, and have really embraced the idea of reinvesting money to maximise profits. They have taken some big risks but in return have seen some big rewards, surely amongst the key attributes of a successful entrepreneur. To have developed those skills without the driver of personal gain - but rather in the service of others - is particularly to the credit of the students concerned.

That is not to say that profit is bad, nor that a competitive edge may not help to inspire entrepreneurship. A further group of Year 12 students proved that this year by winning Unifrog’s national enterprise competition. 

This required students from across the country to create business plans which could be anything from a product to a service. They then had to present their ideas to a panel within school. Beating some tough competition, the 'Back to the Future' team created a business plan for a new and unique concept which was well considered and demonstrated strong market research. Their plan is designed to bring together younger people in need of developing their employability skills with older people of retirement age, who perhaps are battling loneliness and are lacking technological skills in order that the young people can help them to develop skills in this area. The plan allowed for the business to make a profit and won its designers a technology pack worth £499.

Each example shows students using initiative, imagination and sound business sense to realise successful outcomes. Each group also had to embrace the same willingness to take risks that characterises the successful Duke of Edinburgh expedition, or the inspirational pass that creates the sensational goal in hockey or try in rugby. Provided a full and appropriate support system is in place, school is the right place to take such risks: we would be doing our pupils a disservice not to allow them these opportunities both to succeed and to fail - along with all the life lessons that come from that.