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Preach, but also lead by example

Douglas Osler, the former senior chief inspector of schools, opens our special focus on enterprise education by considering how a school's characteristics will help to develop the entrepreneurial spirit

Every generation has social and economic needs which it expects its education system to supply. Learning to be enterprising is becoming increasingly high on the list.

Of course, it is not really new. Some of us remember projects such as Education for an Industrial Society and schools-business links which were expressions in the late 1970s of the feeling that the education system should be focussing more on preparing young people for work.

Despite the many opportunities to learn later in life, your first chance is still the best. If people want to get a life, they need to get a living and if they want to get a living, they need to get an education and one that fits them for tomorrow's working world.

The Centre for Studies in Enterprise, Career Development and Work (Enterprising Careers) at Strathclyde University brings many of these objectives together. Shortly, with the support of the Gordon Cook Foundation, the centre will advertise a fellowship, on secondment, to help identify characteristics of an enterprising school, as a guide to teachers and a notice to the business community, parents and other partners that this is a thought-out strategy.

Learning to be enterprising is more than practical experience of business ventures. It is a way of thinking. It is an attitude of mind shared by the learner, managers and the community. It influences decisions about what to teach and how to learn and how schools are run.

It is important that the education system thinks in an innovative way, that schools are committed to entrepreneurial practices and methodology, and that the curriculum is enhanced by new ways of thinking and relevance.

Individuals will benefit from this approach and, in turn, so will communities.

As a visiting professor at Strathclyde University, one of my first tasks was to chair the Enterprising Careers conference. Many delegates recognised the need to define for schools what enterprise education is about and how it can be delivered. There was a plea to define it broadly to enable as many pupils as possible to benefit.

They recognised there is still a view that this is a lot of effort designed to produce a few entrepreneurs. However, while more successful entrepreneurs will certainly be good for our economy - and part of the purpose of enterprise education is to encourage them - being entrepreneurial can show in ways other than starting a profitable business.

The skills have a wide application. We need community and social activists who think in an entrepreneurial way. It is as important for society to involve entrepreneurial people in community projects as it is to channel their energies into business.

So, what might be the characteristics of a school that reflects this approach? These cannot be defined unilaterally, of course, because that would stifle further enterprising behaviour. However, a school should be enterprising through and through; in its mission, its ethos, its administration, its curriculum and its community and business links, as well as its provision of set piece enterprise opportunities for pupils, as proposed in the Scottish Executive's report Determined to Succeed: A Review of Enterprise in Education.

A school's internal management and use of resources is important. A school which organises only external experience of enterprise for pupils is not practising what it preaches. Schools should reflect best educational and business practice, in that order. In this respect, a school, as a forward looking business unit, communicates to pupils what it means to be effective and efficient, to set and achieve individual and corporate targets, to motivate and include and to have positive attitudes to work and learning.

Such a school will have a network of business links to maximise work experience and employment opportunities for pupils, careers guidance, sponsorship for low-achieving or demotivated pupils in return for meeting individual targets, sharing management ideas and reciprocal staff development.

An enterprising school might have its own business interests as well as encouraging opportunities for its staff and pupils. There are many interesting projects and statistics to consider. For example, one US model allows pupils to use part of their compulsory school time to run their own businesses. Recent evidence suggests large numbers of teachers have personal businesses which could enrich schools' enterprise programmes. Many pupils, too, have extensive experience to contribute from involvement in family businesses.

An enterprising school's ethos will emphasise developing positive attitudes to learning and employment. This includes developing a work ethic where that is not part of the local community culture and it includes valuing the dignity of individual differences.

The curriculum of such schools will be the result of careful consultation and attention to local and national demands. Too much of the current curriculum is dictated by tradition and not by relevance to the needs of people now.

Monitoring what is taught will help to determine how an enterprising approach can be extended. There will be innovative methodology and content to motivate those who are disaffected, not from learning but from what they are expected to learn.

An enterprising school will have a strong social awareness and will keep its community role under review. It will be an inclusive school not just in the broad definition of social inclusion but in the way it includes pupils within its enterprise ethos.

In Scotland, we have many years behind us of enterprising education and a remarkable history of innovation and leadership. We can adapt that to a new emphasis for a new century.

Douglas Osler is now a visiting professor in enterprise education at Strathclyde University

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