Selling enterprise

27th October 2000 at 01:00
I SEE enterprise education is back on the agenda and more money is being provided to train teachers to set up projects. Apparently enterprise education teaches children to take risks and cope with failure. Well, there are many who'd say the exam system did that already, so what is the real added ingredient from "enterprise education"?

In fact, every such package I've ever come across follows the same pattern.

Youngsters are brought together in a mini-company to make and market a product, be it Christmas cards, bookmarks or mugs. The "risk" seems to be in whether they are able to "sell" what they produce. However, there is minimal risk as loving parents and grannies provide a guaranteed market.

But this process ties the concept of "enterprise" firmly to "manufacture", which is itself a dying occupation in modern Britain. We have, as we are constantly told, moved into the "knowledge economy" where knowing more than the next poor sap is more important than producing an artefact.

Of course, real enterprise is about problem solving or, to use the dictionary definition, "showing courage or imaginativeness". It's atually that old favourite "lateral thinking". It's about being lost on a hill and having the wit (enterprise) to follow a river down to the valley. It's about having the sense to look at the sun and work out which way is north. But tying "enterprise" to "manufacturing" is about small business start-ups and is very much part of the old Tory agenda of making schools serve the needs of business rather than the more general needs of pupils and society.

It is ironic that enterprise education is getting more cash just when so many other Tory policies are finally delivering their always predicted disasters, whether it's BSE and new variant CJD from the deregulation of animal feed or a dangerous train system from the privatisation of the railways.

The whole process of letting markets and competition determine policy, which has been so destructive elsewhere, has filtered into education via parental choice, league tables and targets. It is time to re-evaluate this approach wherever it manifests itself and that includes turning children into mini company directors.

Judith Gillespie

Findhorn Place, Edinburgh

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