Hooked on being the boss

28th November 1997 at 00:00
Girls at a Birmingham school aregetting a taste of what it's like to be in charge. Martin Whittaker reports.

THE WORK ethic is catching on among pupils at Turves Green Girls School and Technology College in Birmingham. On Fridays a group of Year 10 girls work through their lunch break and will happily continue for an extra hour after 3.15pm. And last year pupils voluntarily worked in their spare time - even during the holidays.

So what has these 14 and 15-year-olds hooked? The answer is that they are learning to run their own businesses. Turves Green is one of about 2,000 schools and colleges to adopt the company programme scheme set up by the charity Young Enterprise.

Pupils set up and run a company for l0 months. They register it, sell shares, hold board meetings, appoint managing directors and company secretaries, and design and market their own products. At the end of the year the company is liquidated, there's an AGM and shareholders hear whether they have made a profit.

Turves Green, which has 730 pupils aged 11-16, is the only girls school in the country to offer GNVQ engineering, and has now incorporated the company programme into the curriculum.

Deputy head Sue Mackay is enthusiastic. "When you think of everything that's involved in running a business, it ties in very much with GNVQ and the things it's trying to teach the young people. It's developing the key skills.

"I have great faith in these girls - I have invested the maximum amount of shares I can in both companies, which is Pounds 5. I'm hoping I don't lose that vast amount of money!" Last year's class designed, mass-produced and sold tumbling toys. They did workshops with primary school pupils to market test the products and sold them at trade fairs for Pounds 3.50 apiece. Their efforts won them a regional Young Enterprise award, and by the end of the year a 25 pence share was worth 41 pence.

The school's craft design and technology co-ordinator Mary Rodgers came up with the idea of tying in the company programme with GNVQ engineering, and acts as the link teacher with Young Enterprise. She says: "These girls weren't very able pupils at all - and they shone."

She sees the children's characters develop, too. "Their interpersonal skills grow so much. And all the girls who did Young Enterprise last year have improved academically across the board.

"Now two of them are considering running their own businesses later on and probably five out of the group have developed really well from the experience. "

This year the girls are split into two groups based on ability, and each has set up its own company. They also learn how to run a bank, finding out about cashiering, opening an account and balancing the books.

One company - called Cool 'n' Crazy Engineers - holds its weekly board meeting at Friday lunchtime. Six weeks into the scheme, they discuss the products they will make and sell, items such as psychedelic light bulbs, acrylic photo frames and microwave hot-water bottles.

Business adviser Tony Shipway, a purchasing manager from the nearby Rover plant at Longbridge, sits in on the meetings and makes the occasional observation. He says: "It's difficult because the fundamental thing about Young Enterprise is that it's not my business - it's their business. There's a fine line between pointing them in the right direction and directing.

"In this meeting, for the first time the MD talked and people shut up. There are times when they feel extremely uncomfortable telling friends what to do, but that's just part of the learning process of Young Enterprise."

One of last year's students, 15-year-old Claire Davies-Findell, now wants to do business studies at sixth-form college. "We have grown a lot more confident. We had to give a presentation in a room of sixth-formers. There was one girl who did it with us, but a year ago she wouldn't have."

Claire hasn't decided on a career yet, but she adds: "I don't want to start at the bottom - last year I got used to being the boss!"

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