Is enterprise education the new dawn for Scotland? Tom Hunter, 'venture philanthropist', believes so
Let's start with a confession: getting the Schools Enterprise Programme (SEP) into every primary school in Scotland has given me more satisfaction than any business deal - including the sale of Sports Division for pound;290 million.
The reason rests partly in a Chinese proverb which, to paraphrase, says:
"If you are planning for a year, plant tatties; for a decade, plant trees; but if planning for a lifetime, educate people."
Scotland is, I believe, on the cusp of something truly great as enterprise education rolls through our nation via the Executive's Determined to Succeed (DtS) proposals. But we will only achieve that greatness if we all get behind this innovative programme.
Earlier this year, the Hunter Foundation pledged pound;2m, matched by the Scottish Executive, to support important pilot programmes in enterprise education, complementing the Executive's pound;40m commitment with a further pound;4m. This comes after ongoing support for SEP from the Bank of Scotland, Irvine Laidlaw, David Sibbald, Willie Haughey and many other businesses and entrepreneurs. It is a world first for Scotland in enterprise education that we should all be proud of.
These initiatives are categorically not about creating a nation of entrepreneurs. They are about ensuring every child in Scotland has opportunities, regardless of socio-economic circumstance, and giving them the ability to grasp those chances. They can become an enterprising civil servant, nurse, teacher, technician, engineer or whatever that child may seek. Some may even choose to set up in business but that will be a by-product.
Education, I believe, is the great leveller and enabler of people. It is for that reason alone that we must ensure our teachers gain the credit they so truly deserve. Do our teachers not deserve as much esteem as lawyers, accountants or entrepreneurs? Of course they do, and I will tell you why.
We have trawled the world for both evidence and initiatives to adapt and deploy here in Scotland alongside some exceptional home-grown programmes.
We came across, through the Carnegie Corporation of New York, research that proved beyond doubt that the greatest impact upon a child's attainment levels was the teacher.
The research, in Tennessee, controlled for every other factor barring the teacher by measuring thousands of individual pupil attainment levels for three years. These were then correlated to teacher-pupil allocation. The findings were staggering. If a child was randomly allocated (as is common practice) a good teacher each year, regardless of socio-economic status he or she would rise to the young and gifted category. Sadly, the reverse was also true.
Research continues into what makes a great teacher and we will all recognise some initial findings - good teachers teach using practical example, do not "teach to the test" and individually coach across levels of attainment.
This told us that if we could make any difference it would be by investing a substantial portion of our funds in teacher education. We are now already piloting, with support from the Scottish Executive, one major programme and assessing the opportunity to apply another in teacher education.
Our funding is, as we see it, risk capital aimed at piloting new innovative interventions in education. We hope that, where our programmes succeed in making measurable positive impacts, full funding will in time come from the Executive. For that reason and our own investment strategy, all our programmes are independently evaluated and measured.
Our first major intervention is with the Columba 1400 leadership initiative, which is piloting an innovative new programme for heads and deputy heads from across Scotland's primary and secondary schools. An initial pilot of around 90 of these teachers will go through the programme that involves a residential course on Skye, with ongoing support and mentoring built in.
In turn we are now discussing with the Scottish Executive, General Teaching Council for Scotland and many interested parties involved in initial teacher education a new pilot programme based on a dynamic Scottish version of the Carnegie Corporation's "Teachers for a New Era" (see www.carnegie.org) initiative on how best to develop good teachers.
Meanwhile, the DtS should enable every child in Scotland to pursue the many vocational opportunities before them in an enterprising and dynamic manner.
Importantly, it should also help shine the light on the true stars of our society, teachers.
Tom Hunter is founder of the Hunter Foundation.