Let's be enterprising

24th August 2012 at 01:00

Education secretary Michael Gove faced a political backlash at the end of last term when plans were leaked suggesting that he wanted to scrap GCSE qualifications in favour of O level-style exams.

I believe that rewinding the curriculum, if that's what this is, would be a mistake. The formal two-tier education system of the 1960s was geared towards preparing thousands of people for jobs in then-buoyant textile, motor and manufacturing industries. Replicating a curriculum from an industrial age will not equip students with the skills and attitudes they need now.

Where I do agree with Mr Gove is that we need sweeping reforms. He is right to call for a stronger curriculum that "prepares all children for success at 16 and beyond". Currently, a mismatch exists in too many areas of our curriculum between education and business. Too much of our vocational education, for example, is based on the notion of work in a well-defined (and long-term) role in a large organisation. But how many young people take a "job for life" nowadays? More likely they will have 10 or even 20 "careers" across different sectors. They may even want to start their own business at some stage.

Moreover, UK employers aren't asking for people with more qualifications. They are crying out for leadership and problem-solving skills, confidence and creativity. They want young people who can add value to their businesses. The current education system simply isn't producing people with that profile.

Entrepreneurial colleges, where students were equipped to explore self-employment and gain real commercial awareness, would tackle these issues. Instead of separating out occupations such as construction, hairdressing and catering, bring them together and ask: "How do you make this business a success? How do you make it profitable?"

While structured classroom- or workshop-based tuition has its place, it doesn't reflect the real world of work. As the Gazelle network of college principals highlights in its recent Enterprising Futures report, teachers, mentors, coaches, entrepreneurs and students all need to work together as a team. Why not set up mini-enterprises open to the public within schools and colleges? Why not give students a stake in running a self-sustaining business, earning wages and sharing the profits?

To prepare the next generation for the 21st-century world of work, education and business need to fuse. And that means revolutionising the current system - not dwelling on the past.

Fintan Donohue is chief executive of Gazelle, a nationwide network of college principals committed to driving entrepreneurship in the education sector.

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