Call for reform in English schools as enterprise education accused of 'lagging far behind' rest of UK

Call for reform in English schools as enterprise education accused of 'lagging far behind' rest of UK
Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events

Posted: Mon 4th Jul 2022

The way young people in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are taught about starting a business is superior to that in England and the government must act to make improvements, according to a new report by a cross-party group of MPs.

Despite the recognised value of entrepreneurial skills for the economy, students and employers, the paper by the APPG for Entrepreneurship and financial services company finnCap highlighted that England is one of the few places in Europe that has yet to develop a specific entrepreneurship education strategy for schools. It is also "lagging far behind" the rest of the UK with strategies launched in Scotland and Northern Ireland in 2003 and Wales in 2004.

Private providers have been left to "come to the rescue" in England, the report said, as a result of the government's "haphazard" approach to enterprise education and lack of "intragovernmental leadership" due to it being unclear which minister and government department has overall responsibility.

The English school curriculum as a whole is missing an entrepreneurship focus, the APPG complained, with only "limited interventions" such as including enterprise for Key Stage 4 in 2004 and funding start-up activities in secondary schools in 2007-2010.

Ofsted found that schools which successfully embedded enterprise within their curricula enjoyed a positive impact on pupils’ employability and enterprise skills, but despite this, only four out of 40 English schools visited in 2016 had continued to offer enterprise education that met the needs of pupils and the local economy.

Over the border in Wales, the situation is very different, the report said.

The Welsh government's Youth Entrepreneurship Strategy, which covers 5-25 year-olds, was first created in 2004 and updated in 2010. It seeks to "develop and nurture self-sufficient, entrepreneurial young people in all communities across Wales, who will contribute positively to economic and social success".

The strategy was developed through a collaboration between several government departments and public sector stakeholders. It includes initiatives such as Big Ideas Wales, a campaign which encourages businesses to directly engage with young people, and the announcement last month of £5m to support 1,200 young people to start their own business with individual grants of up to £2,000.

The report also noted that Wales is "unique in linking work on education and innovation policy to school effectiveness and careers policy".

How to improve enterprise education in England

The report warned that "key entrepreneurial skills are not being properly encouraged in schools in the United Kingdom, and such an omission leaves the country at risk of falling behind".

It added: "Enterprise can help us benefit from the opportunities provided by both new technologies and globalisation, but the cultivation of these skills must begin in schools.

"Ensuring that a system of accessible and quality enterprise education is prioritised in schools across the country will produce a workforce that is more productive, innovative, and adaptable to whatever the future economy might hold."

In its recommendations for improvements, the APPG said the government should "clearly assign responsibility" for enterprise education in England to the education secretary, who should work with the business secretary on curriculum design and wider entrepreneurial strategy.

A youth enterprise strategy for England should be drafted and businesses, local enterprise partnerships, and combined authority mayors should be incentivised to engage with entrepreneurship education. This could be financial rewards as well as social incentives, such as a kitemark.

Finally, the report said the government should provide funding and resources for pupils to get involved with entrepreneurial activity, integrate entrepreneurialism into the national curriculum and recruit successful entrepreneurs to run workshops and host talks in local schools.

Open letter calling for shift in how enterprise is taught in schools

Alongside the report, 164 educators and entrepreneurs have signed an open letter:

Young people are entering a world of work that is changing at breakneck speed. Many of the jobs that school leavers expect to do today didn't exist 15 years ago and the same is likely to be true in the next 15 years. It's not just job titles that are changing. Young people increasingly expect to and, most importantly, want to start businesses and work for themselves. This change represents a massive opportunity to lift Britain's sluggish rates of economic growth, but it is not being seized.

Despite the valiant efforts of teachers, charities, and social enterprises, too many young people are leaving school without the entrepreneurial skills necessary to succeed in the 2020s. We, as entrepreneurs, educators, and organisations working with young people believe this must change.

A new report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Entrepreneurship calls for a radical shift in policy. The government should publish a youth entrepreneurship strategy, building on existing work from organisations and experience from across the world.

Entrepreneurship needs to be a part of every student's education and integrated into existing subjects such as maths, English, and design. This would bring subjects to life and make each subject's relevance clear to less engaged students.

Funding should be provided to recruit a network of representative entrepreneurs to act as role models and mentors to young people. Exposing more students to entrepreneurs within their communities from similar backgrounds would help us fix entrepreneurship's diversity problem.

At the moment, responsibility for entrepreneurship education isn't clearly assigned to a specific Secretary of State. This must change -- to drive lasting change, we need accountability and ownership. The buck must stop with the education secretary.

By making entrepreneurship education a priority we can develop a workforce that is more productive, innovative, and adaptable to whatever the future economy might hold.

Dan Martin
Dan MartinDan Martin Content & Events
I'm a freelance content creator and event host who helps small businesses and the organisations that support them. I'm also Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I have 20 years of experience as a small business journalist having interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs from famous names like Sir Richard Branson and Deborah Meaden to the founders behind brand new start-ups. I've worked for a range of leading small business publications and support groups, most recently as head of content at Enterprise Nation where I was responsible for the prolific output of content on the company's blog and social media. I now freelance for Enterprise Nation as the website's news reporter and as the host of the Small Business sessions podcast. I'm based in Bristol where I run and host regular events with the local small business community in my role as Enterprise Nation's Local Leader for Bristol. I also have strong connections with other major business organisations in the south west region. In total, I've hosted over 100 events including conferences with an audience of hundreds for international brands like Xero and Facebook and live web chats from inside 10 Downing Street. With my partner, I co-run Lifestyle District, a lifestyle blog focused on culture, art, theatre and photography.

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