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Heralds of free enterprise

Pupils from both impoverished and mollycoddled homes are being fired up with entrepreneurial zeal.

Super Shop will be a cutting-edge supermarket. It will have a coffee shop, where shoppers can relax over a hot drink, and a toy-filled play area for customers' children.

The building will cover acres, but policemen will be on hand to help anyone who loses their way among the aisles.

In fact, there is only one thing missing from Super Shop ...

"So," a would-be shopper asks the planning committee. "What will it sell?"

There is silence for a few minutes while the committee ponder this unexpected question. Then one speaks up. "Food," she says. "Everyone likes food. And clothes. Toys. Knickers." Her fellow committee members giggle. She scowls. "And shoes. Irons. Electricity."

As an entrepreneurial idea, it might not stand up in Sir Alan Sugar's boardroom, but plans for Super Shop neatly fill the gap between break and lunchtime.

The six-member committee is one of several such groups in Year 3 at St Matthew Academy in Lewisham, south London. Huddled in groups on the floor, the pupils draw up ideas for different local businesses.

Next to the Super Shop group, four boys are clustered around a sheet of paper, debating the nature of their business. A teacher suggests a dry-cleaning shop. The pupils are unenthusiastic. "A games shop," one boy suggests. "A karate school," another volunteers. "An airport!" a third pipes up, and the group launches into a debate about the practicalities of landing aeroplanes on Lewisham village green.

This term, a failing secondary merged with a nearby primary to create St Matthew Academy, a business and enterprise school for three to 16-year-olds. To mark its new status, the term ended with a three-day enterprise week, during which the entire school focused on entrepreneurial activities.

Monica Cross, the principal, said: "Employers constantly talk about what they want schools to produce. They do not talk in terms of subject knowledge. They say they want young people who are confident, who can do research, set targets and meet them."

So, while Years 8 and 9 were addressed by a series of business specialists, primary pupils followed a tailored enterprise programme.

Year 3 became town planners for the day, drawing up plans for local businesses. Year 2 looked at the distinction between needs and wants: what is the difference between spending pound;50 on housing and pound;50 on golf clubs?

And Year 1 examined the importance of different jobs, reading stories about doctors, postmen and farmers.

Five-year-old Malacki Rhooms now has a new understanding of these professions. "Working in a hospital is an important job," he said. "If there were no doctors, then people would die. That would be sad because children would have no one to play with."

Many St Matthew pupils come from impoverished homes; others live on estates with thriving gang cultures. Their ambitions are, therefore, limited.

But Ms Cross hopes that this week's discussions will broaden her pupils' aspirations.

"Most children aspire to the jobs their families do," she said. "We're telling them, you're as good as you want to be."

Those pupils who do not belong to gangs are often closely guarded by protective parents. Ms Cross hopes that the enterprise scheme will enable these pupils to experience controlled risk-taking for the first time.

"Some of them have never been north of the river," she said. "It may as well be a foreign country. But if you wrap children up in cotton wool, you turn them into scaredy-cats.

"We're showing them that you can have a risky life without joining a gang. Go for a job you think you might not get. Set up a business and you might make money, but you might lose it."

For Super Shop's planning committee, however, failure is not an option.

"We could open a real supermarket and make lots of money," says Shaconia Hosein, her eyes glistening as she jumps up in her chair. "We'll be rich. We're going to be the first-ever seven-year-old millionaires."

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