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Starred topic of the curriculum

Douglas Blane reports on national moves to establish an enterprise philosophy

The stuffy confines of the Scottish Parliament were recently enlivened by the presence of a dynamic group from St Helen's Primary in Cumbernauld. The youngsters had been invited to give evidence to the Enterprise and Lifelong Learning Committee.

They spoke articulately about the businesses they had set up at school. Cards, yo-yos, gift boxes, candles, fridge magnets and bookmarks were being sold to pupils, parents, teachers and others.

"Nothing would put me off running a business," said a girl who originally wanted to be a doctor.

Headteacher Alice Quinn told the committee that enterprise education was now "integrated into language, maths and everything else we do in the school".

It's an achievement the Scottish Executive wants to see in every school in the land. Its response to the group set up to review education for work and enterprise says: "Enterprise in education forms a key component of our plans for learning and education in the next five years and beyond."

The review group, made up of businessmen, local government delegates and educationists, deliberated for more than a year - far longer than intended, amid reports of in-fighting - before publishing 20 recommendations. All have been approved by the Executive.

With the report's insistence on expansion of business involvement in schools and its call for an increase in the entitlement of every schoolchild from P1 to S6 to undertake one enterprise activity a year, it heralds a sharp rise in the profile of enterprise education, particularly in the secondary sector, where many teachers have yet to engage with the idea.

The review group's acrimony will be forgotten in a year or two, but its legacy will remain for at least five in the structure hammered out to deliver the promised change in enterprise education.

Within that structure there are winners and losers. First past the post is Schools Enterprise Scotland, the body of businessmen (including entrepreneur Tom Hunter, who was a review group member, and Chris van der Kuyl, chief executive of Vis Entertainment) whose partnership with the Executive and joint funding of the highly-regarded Schools Enterprise Programme provides the basis of the model for the future.

Local authorities will also do well. Once they have submitted detailed enterprise education plans to the Executive and its "expert advisers", Schools Enterprise Scotland, up to 10 authorities will be rewarded with a share of the pound;9 million available in the first year to expand enterprise activities. The others will be funded over the next couple of years.

The losers seem to be Careers Scotland. After two years of enthusing youngsters with the 5-14 Schools Enterprise Programme, and five years of enthralling older children with the Get into Enterprise initiative, Careers Scotland (which is part of the enterprise network) now finds itself in the unenviable position of having to compete with every other provider of enterprise education for support from local authorities.

Concerns voiced about this enterprise education structure focus on two main areas: local authority control of funding and business influence on education policy.

Critics point out that similar levels of funding allocated last year to improve school science resources were effectively deployed in only some authorities. In others, say teachers, the money took a long time to trickle down to classrooms and sizeable amounts never did.

Meanwhile, business influence on education grows apace. At last year's national showcase of the Schools Enterprise Programme one girl told of how Mr Hunter visited her school and interviewed pupils for posts in their enterprise. "It was quite scary," she said.

Referring to this in his speech at the end of the day, MSP Iain Gray said that before being appointed Minister of Enterprise and Lifelong Learning, he too had been interviewed by Mr Hunter and found it scary. It was a light-hearted but revealing remark.

Immediately after St Helen's Primary had given its evidence to the Scottish Parliament, a few businessmen with an interest in school education were called before the committee. First up was Mr Hunter, who said: "Now that the programme is under way it just will not stop. Someone said that the programme will end in 2004 but, to be quite frank, that will happen over my dead body."

Determined to Succeed: A Review of Enterprise in Education to Succeed: Enterprise in Education, Scottish Executive Response, 2003 www.enterpriseineducation.orgresponse.pdf

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