Competitive future calls for a bold generation of risk takers

9th February 2007 at 00:00
There is nothing worth gaining in life that does not involve some risk. We have a great track record as a nation of innovators, but in recent years we have become risk-averse, so we now lag behind our global competitors.

Over-regulation, weak, uninspired politicians, fear of litigation, excessive political correctness and distorted media reports are pushing us to get rid of risk, and this will harm our economic and social well-being.

Today's pupils are tomorrow's innovators, and they are growing up in a very different world. The economic climate has changed from the one for which many of us were educated. The 80:20 split of manual versus professionalclerical jobs that characterised the post-war years and shaped our education system has virtually reversed in many job sectors.JWe now compete in global, knowledge-intensive markets against the likes of India and China, and the emphasis is on brains rather than brawn.

In three years' time there will be a million jobs for the unskilled; by 2020, there will be just 100,000.JThis is the world that today's five-year-olds will live in, so we must pay attention to these trends.

Employers need people who can read, write and count, but academic credentials are not enough - they want people who can think, solve problems, work in geographically disparate teams, create new products, find new markets, negotiate.JThey are interested in achievements outside of school. As one employer put it, "We are looking for passion - in anything."

What a shame these are called "soft skills", for they are anything but - they are vital and underpinned by an understanding of risk and how to deal with it.

Identifying, evaluating and managing risk is just as important to young people in their personal lives as it is in their careers. Yet too often adults want to eradicate risk from their lives. Thus, we delude them into thinking that risk, competition and failure do not exist: a lie. In banning failure and limiting opportunities for adventure and exploration, we squeeze the lifeblood of enterprise out of children and channel their curiosity into more sinister outlets.J A risk-averse society becomes a nanny state.JIt values rights disproportionatelyJover responsibilities. It does not innovate or exploit scientific discoveries or regenerate communities.JIt stagnates and declines.J The past 10 years have seen those who govern us tell us that nanny knows best. Now we let nanny tell us what to eat, think, say. Soon we'll be told how to breathe!

By not letting children take risks, we are taking a big risk ourselves: there are billions of educated young risk-takers in China and India just waiting for a chance to snatch our lunch from under our noses.

I have visited many schools and I know that many take this challenge seriously.J But while there are initiatives in place to develop enterprise skills, many schools are struggling to embed an enterprise culture.J Those that are succeeding - some of them profiled in my paper, "Cotton Wool Kids"

- go out of their way to create situations for children to take risks in a supported environment.JThey encourage children to take decisions, make choices and learn that rights come with responsibilities. They help children to see that failure is part of the journey to success. They refuse to be defeated by red tape and excessive political correctness and take a balanced view of health and safety.JThey break from a prescribed curriculum so that learning is an adventure and takes on a new relevance. They work with community organisations and businesses so that pupils and teachers can experience life outside school.

We need more schools like these. That is why I am spearheading a new initiative, Go4it, alongside Heads, Teachers and Industry. Go4it is a national campaign and awards process which rewards schools that are promoting positive innovation in every facet of school life. It is time we looked differently at risk - for the sake of our children and their future.

For more information about the paper "Cotton Wool Kids" see or ring 024 7641 0104

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today