Tony Blair put education at the forefront of his first election campaign. While he now shuffles around the world in search of his legacy it was education that was his first hope for booking his place in history.
It wasn’t just about raising standards in education. His strategy had a focus on entrepreneurship at it’s core. Those early, cringe-worthy Brit-Pop meetings at Number 10 were not only so Tony could meet his heroes. The aim was to encourage government to connect with youth culture and through it encourage a more enterprising generation. The big idea was to inject the spirit of enterprise into a tired, old schools sector.
So how did innovation and enterprise come to be forgotten and the focus to narrow even further on exam results and school league tables?
In my view the error came right at the start when the emphasis was put on pupils rather than teachers.
Programmes were developed to encourage pupil entrepreneurship. These, supported by the huge expansion in personal access to information driven by the growth of the internet in the 90’s and into the 21st century, allowed pupils to be put at the centre of their learning experience. This is perfectly right and proper. In theory.
But while there is so little room for enterprise within the teaching profession – being solely driven by academic achievement and league tables and commonly having no work/life experience beyond the education system – enterprise is squeezed out of the curriculum. How many times have we heard that teachers train children to pass exams rather than educating them?
The focus on academic achievement has meant that vocational training has been sidelined by successive governments. After much debate 14-19 years diplomas have been introduced in subjects such as construction and media but the initial intention of offering vocational study options in mainstream subjects such as English and modern languages has been shelved. This has meant that vocational courses are still seen as the poor relation to academic study.
Free schools, much vaunted by Michael Gove, may improve the situation by giving schools more control over the curriculum. However, looking at the experience with the current free schools, the city academies, they have been accused of doing away with ‘harder‘ academic subjects to focus on ‘softer‘ vocational options to improve the performance and position on school league tables.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
While we have this differential thinking that equates academic to difficult and vocational to easy how will we ever be able to give equal value to practical study and to properly introduce courses such as enterprise and entrepreneurship into our schools.
In my own recent experience I contacted the Determined to Succeed Team here in Scotland. This is a great programme and driven by talented and committed individuals. The programme, however, is delivered via the local education bodies. I was able to offer my own skills, and those of hundreds of entrepreneurs who are involved in the3rdi magazine, free of charge, to support enterprise and work experience initiatives within schools.
To my huge disappointment, but not surprise as my own son has recently left the education system in Scotland, not one school in Perth and Kinross, not one – primary or secondary, thought that they could benefit from this opportunity. They were all too busy, focussed solely on year tests and final examination results. All too blinkered. My own son had not a single class on enterprise in his whole secondary education. Fortunately he has lots of role models outside the classroom but most kids aren’t that lucky and rely entirely on schools for the totality of their education, academic or otherwise.
We are now working with Glasgow schools and so maybe all is not doom and gloom.