It's 9am on Friday at Longford Community School in Feltham, west London, and there is quite an exchange in incredulous looks going on among the 90 Year 10 students gathered in the main hall. By lunchtime, they have just been told, they will have been expected not only to come up with a detailed business plan for the creation and promotion of a new product or service likely to promote good health or well-being, but to have made a presentation before peers and teachers explaining their plan.
"That kind of demand justifies the title of this programme," says Clare McDonald of enterprise education specialists Field Lockhart, creators of the Lionheart Challenge. "Our events require a lot of concentration, energy and enthusiasm, and many pupils rise to the occasion - it can sometimes be a revelation to teachers who are not used to seeing their pupils work under that kind of pressure."
The Lionheart Challenge trails a lot of glory since it was first devised in Scotland in 2002. It has been championed by the Learning Skills Council, who supported it through a nationwide pilot and designated it the flagship programme for National Enterprise Week in 2004. It was also endorsed by Sir Howard Davies, who was impressed by the way it dovetailed with many of the aims set out in 2002 in his Review of Enterprise and the Economy in Education (available at www.dfes.gov.ukebnetdownloadReview.pdf).
"Today is a new kind of micro-challenge," says Clare McDonald. "We road-tested it in a recent all-London event with six-strong pupil teams and an all-day final in London at the Chartered Institute of Finance."
The half-day format is an attempt to broaden the Lionheart experience to encompass entire year groups. The plan is to make school-based follow-up events a part of the package on offer to those entering future inter-school challenges. The area heats for 20067 are due to kick off in the autumn.
"There will be some sacrifices," says Clare. "There's no opportunity for students to web-research the marketplace, and staging it in schools means some of the wow factor associated with the kind of prestigious settings we've used for whole-day challenges is lost."
That said, the key component of the concept is retained - the opportunity for participants to work with leading business experts, on hand as mentors to every group. One such is university lecturer Gordon Cairns. "The kind of risk-taking associated with entrepreneurship does not develop in people by accident," he says. "It can be fostered, and the Lionheart Challenge is an ideal way of doing so."
Also full of praise is computer company director Michael Pollock, singling out the workbook that occupies students through the morning. "It really drives the work, ensuring teams carefully define their plans, consider the customer and map their pricing and marketing strategies," he says. "My role is to keep them on task, monitor their progress and encourage them to revise their ideas."
There are also follow-up exercises, designed to take the event on into lessons. "What they are covering this morning is almost an entire year's business studies course in miniature," says Longford business studies teacher Reetka Nagra. "Their behaviour is excellent, with the approaching deadline really giving them a reason to collaborate with peers beyond their normal friendship groups."
Head of business studies Salim Labille agrees: "There is lots here that will be picked up and reinforced in other mini-enterprise activities that take place in the school."
For headteacher Avril Dalglish, the challenge fits in perfectly with the school's recently acquired specialist business and enterprise status. "It is proof, also, of what young people can achieve if they put their minds to it," she adds.
As the deadline approaches, silence descends on the hall. A halt is called and each group must select a speaker for the presentations, which are to be judged according to a variety of criteria, includingJbest use of figures, best marketing plan and best overall performance.
The range of products include two using technology to create simulated environments within which people can exercise - virtual escapes from the dull routine of working out in the gym or at home. Then there's an idea for including subliminal pro-exercise messages beneath music compilations. The prize, if there were one for the most outrageous notion, deserves to go to the group proposing a do-it-yourself liposuction kit.
In the feedback afterwards, students praise many aspects of the challenge, but far and away the main source of satisfaction has been working together.
"We just had to get along," says 14-year-old Lisa Tucker.
* Field Lockhart Lionheart Challenge www.fla.uk.comevent.html