Exam 'failures' can succeed big time

2nd January 2004 at 00:00
Only a small minority of pupils possess the energy and drive of tycoons such as Tom Hunter and Sir Richard Branson, an enterprise study reveals.

But they come from any part of the ability range, including the disaffected and can compensate for a poor school showing by branching out on their own.

Teachers, hardly surprisingly, are said to be mostly far removed from the characteristics of the thrusting money-men, although ministers are demanding that they set up enterprise activities for all pupils.

Between 9 per cent and 19 per cent of secondary pupils studied by researchers working for Mindscreen, a Leith-based company specialising in personal and career development, display the essential features of businessmen such as Tom Hunter, the Cumnock-raised multimillionaire who is driving the Scottish Executive's campaign on school enterprise.

Mindscreen has been working with six Scottish secondaries on its entrepreneurial spirit programme, and research shows that pupils with an eye for an opening are spread across the ability range. "This has surprised some teachers who expected the pattern of selection to favour 'challenged'

pupils," Sheila Semple of Strathclyde University and Andy McArthur of McArthur Research say.

The programme was targeted at the disaffected but has potential to extend far wider, it is said.

A previous study by Mindscreen into the characteristics of 80 Scottish entrepreneurs discovered that four out of 10 flunked school and quit education early, many to establish businesses.

Gavin Devereux, Mindscreen's managing director, said entrepreneurs were natural risk-takers and strongly independent. His company is now trying to identify young people who might show the same strengths and channel them into positive, enterprising activity.

With up to 20 per cent of pupils said to be disaffected, Mr Devereux believes there is scope to release potential in other ways.

Perhaps surprisingly, one in six teachers interviewed in the six secondaries had previously or were currently running their own businesses, such as craft or jewellery-making or freelance coaching.

But six out of 10 felt they had little to contribute to the entrepreneurial spirit initiative. Only one in 10 said they were experienced in school-based enterprise education.

More than six out of 10 (65 per cent) believe that fewer than one in 10 pupils have what it takes to start their own business. Only 15 per cent thought the school environment was well suited to promoting entrepreneurial activity.

Most of the cynics - across all schools and grades of staff - said time was the biggest constraint on enterprise, with the timetable and curriculum tightly prescribed.

the researchers state: "Linked with this was the need for school staff to meet targets for attainment at S grade for all pupils - 'the league tables are God'."

Others were not enthusiastic because of "initiative fatigue".

Further information is available on www.mindscreen.com.


Students who possess the same features as a Hunter or a Branson tend to be more extroverted, are stimulated by activity-based learning and like quick results. They want a practical return from learning.

Teachers tend to be more reserved, introverted, methodical, routine-oriented and people-focused. They like accumulating knowledge and helping others.

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