Rotherham borough council had been helping to set up partnerships between local businesses and schools. However, when the council asked the employers for feedback, the businesses complained that the young people were not ready for work when leaving school.
"Employers were saying that young people were not enterprising enough, and that also chimed with educators," says project officer Catherine Brentnall.
So the council launched Rotherham Ready, a scheme that helps businesses and schools to look at the skills young people need in the 21st century. They came up with a framework of 13 skills. "Some were soft skills such as teamwork and creativity, but there was also product design, financial literacy and taking ethical decisions," Brentnall says.
The framework was then introduced to schools to incorporate into their curriculums for children aged 4 upwards.
The 13 skills that schools in Rotherham have been asked to work into their curriculum are: teamwork, risk, negotiating and influencing, effective communication, creativity and innovation, positive attitude, initiative, organising and planning, problem-solving, leadership, making ethical decisions, financial literacy, and product and service design. For primaries, the "Big 13" is slimmed down to six.
A small team of staff works with schools and local businesses to help make these skills and an enterprise approach part of the curriculum. They do this by training teachers, providing a range of activities and supporting schools to gain the Warwick Award for Excellence in Enterprise Education, a national award set up by the University of Warwick. The scheme is now running in 128 of the 130 schools in Rotherham.
"We don't just schlep employers into assembly to tell children: 'You could do this'," says Brentnall. "To develop programmes we want businesses to work alongside people in schools."
One popular scheme is "Make #163;5 blossom", where business people give children a loan of #163;5 each and provide mentoring to help them develop business plans and launch ventures in school. The children make a profit, paying back the loan and keeping the rest. "There is a lot of child-led activity and it can be linked to loads of different curriculum areas, such as making adverts in literacy and doing the costings in maths," Brentnall says.
Tips from the scheme
A skills-based framework is no good just listed on a wall.
Connect with partners outside the school to help develop entrepreneurship.
Get children to work towards something purposeful. If they are learning about the Second World War, for example, tell them they need to plan and organise a museum.
Evidence that it works?
An evaluation of Rotherham Ready by business consultancy Milburn Trinnaman La Court, with advice from Mike Coldwell of Sheffield Hallam University, found the project had been successful in turning the "fuzzy" idea of enterprise education into something of substance.
"Watch, listen and talk to pupils, as we have been privileged to be able to do, and it's impossible not to be amazedinspired," the report said.
Funding for the initial scheme ended in 2009, but the organisers secured more funding and have now formed a social enterprise company called Are You Ready? It runs similar schemes in Hull, Calderdale, Scarborough, North Lincolnshire and Derbyshire. Are You Ready? won the StartUp Britain Best Enterprise Support Award in 2011.
Aim: To inspire a sense of ambition and confidence in places of high youth unemployment, creating both more entrepreneurial employees and more enterprising employers
Approach: Training teachers, providing activities, supporting professional development
Websites: www.rotherhamready.org.uk; www.areyouready.org.uk
Evaluation comments: "High quality professional development, underpinned by good resources and support in schools have helped inspire teachers, develop a common understanding of enterprise and promote appropriate teaching and learning styles." Evaluation of Rotherham Ready enterprise initiative (July 2008).