TEACHERS were blamed for holding children back from becoming entrepreneurs last week during Global Entrepreneurs Week (GEW). Peter Jones, the entrepreneur and founder of Britain’s first National Enterprise Academy (NEA), used the occasion to call on the government to make NEA qualifications available in every school. But this week, the Education Secretary Michael Gove issued long-awaited plans to sweep away the “culture of compliance” in British schools and replace it with more freedom for teachers to teach what they want. The opposing views beg the question: should the state impose enterprise education from the top down or can the private sector fill the gap independently?
While it is clear that British entrepreneurial culture is lagging behind – just 5.8 per cent of the population are engaged in the process of starting a business compared to 8 per cent in the US and 15 per cent in Brazil and 19 per cent in China – GEW itself highlighted several private initiatives that are already working to encourage more entrepreneurship. The schemes brought to light throughout the week – many of them funded by Jones himself – included Enternships.com, which takes young people outside of the classroom and places them with an entrepreneur for an internship. This social enterprise is working with around 2,000 start-ups and small businesses, not only in the UK but far and wide: from India to Brazil, Spain and the US. The founder Rajeeb Dey is currently on a campaign to get angel investment to promote the programme and address the “total disconnect” between start-ups and university talent. Likewise Oli Barrett is the founder of “Make Your Mark with a Tenner” a scheme that challenges school pupils to see how much money they can turn a tenner into in a month.
Interestingly, Jones’s argument for the NEA rests on research showing that students cite teachers’ lack of business experience as the number one reason for being held back from becoming entrepreneurs. Yet Jones’s dream would require these same ill-equipped teachers to successfully deliver his NEA qualifications. Private entrepreneurial efforts are not only more in keeping with the true spirit of enterprise education but would expose young people directly to the businesses and entrepreneurs most likely to capture their imagination.