Give a real project and you'll get real learning

6th August 2004 at 01:00
Laura Cook, enterprise education support officer in North Ayrshire, outlines what the initiative has meant

A very important feature of the success across Ayrshire was the strong support we received from day one from the three local authorities. That meant simple but effective things like being able to put the details of our training courses into the authorities' in-house catalogues of in-service courses.

It also meant being able to call on specialised support for enterprise activities in schools so that, for example, when a school spoke to me about the pupils organising an art exhibition, a quick visit to North Ayrshire's arts and cultural adviser resulted in funding for an art specialist to work with the children.

But I would regard the core activities for all enterprise education support officers as the organisation and selling of our in-service courses and supporting schools to introduce or develop enterprise in their schools.

I was always confident that the training targets would be met. However, the introduction of a continuing professional development requirement for teachers meant that courses offered as "twilights" were not only popular but on occasion oversubscribed.

And, crucially, an analysis of the course evaluation forms shows that while some course delegates came along with the aim of notching up some CPD hours, they went away sold on the idea of using enterprise as a way of teaching in the classroom.

The support for schools has taken many different forms including assisting with policy writing, finding out about the legalities of pupils selling a CD containing commercially published music, finding a business mentor to work with pupils; the list goes on. Oh, and buying their products - we really ought to have had an expenses account.

A few examples about pupils participating in enterprise sum up for me what the value of it all is.

The first one is simple. There is now a paper bank on the island of Cumbrae where there wasn't one before, thanks to some enterprising infant pupils - a wonderful example of a not-for-profit enterprise that benefited a whole community.

At a special enterprise in education prizegiving recently at Largs Academy - a particularly enterprising school - the young man who took the main prize already has a small business on the go, and was picked out by some business mentors in the school last year as the pupil most likely to become a successful entrepreneur.

Speaking to him after the event, I discovered that he is leaving sixth year to go on to college to study for an HNC. I have always been interested in the educational debate about achievement versus attainment. In that young man, there is for me no better example of the value of achievement.

Why does attainment always have to drive what we as teachers do? Does enterprise help pupils to attain? I believe it does but would like to see some more formal research on that. There is no question, however, that pupils achieve through enterprise activities.

A really interesting phenomenon for me has been the power of pupils to sway the cynical or sceptical teacher. I have had teachers come on my courses who were really anti-enterprise and went away saying reluctantly that they will give it a go. I always follow these cases up, and I have never had one who hasn't conceded not only that the pupils got a lot out of what was going on, but that they enjoyed it too.

One convert was persuaded to be a a a speaker at a conference of North Ayrshire headteachers. That wasn't my doing - it was the pupils in her class.

As a teacher, one of my favourite things about enterprise is that the pupils are learning in a real context. Textbooks do try - but a lot of the contexts are extremely contrived and bear no relation to the lives of children in North Ayrshire.

When kids do enterprise in the class, it's a real project and the learning is for a real purpose.

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