Children as young as six are setting up their own businesses across South Ayrshire. Raymond Ross reports
Business is budding at St John's primary in Ayr, where six and seven-year-olds are growing hyacinth and daffodil bulbs to be sold at the school's coffee morning.
The 50 Primary 2 pupils discuss how to advertise and sell the products, named Posh Pots and Baby Buds in homage to their favourite Spice Girls, Posh and Baby.
The bulbs, planted in hand-painted pots, will be sold for pound;1, making a profit of 50p. Start-up costs were borrowed from the school fund, offset with a pound;40 grant from the local Bank of Scotland. Excess pots will be sold as pot-pourri or pencil holders, and part of the profit will be donated to charity, at the pupils' request.
Elaine Murray, convenor of educational services for South Ayrshire, says:
"This is a practical application of the academic curriculum which encourages and develops natural entrepreneurial skills, and is also great fun for the pupils".
South Ayrshire is at the forefront of the Schools Enterprise Programme, a national initiative set up by Scottish Enterprise to teach youngsters the basics of starting and running a business, and raise their awareness of self-employment as a viable option. By the end of this month, the council - working with Scottish Enterprise and Enterprise Ayrshire - aims to have enterprise activities embedded in the curriculum of its 45 primary, nine secondary and four special schools.
At a cost of pound;46,000, half of which is borne by South Ayrshire, teachers throughout the authority have been trained for the enterprise initiative. Every school now has at least one teacher functioning as an enterprise education co-ordinator and enterprise education is a declared objective of each school's development plan.
"It is crucially important that young people are exposed to the idea of enterprise," says Mike McCabe, South Ayrshire's director of educational services. "This project has been particularly successful because it is hands on and gets to pupils while they are still open-minded. Early exposure breeds confidence."
Regarding the project as "a significant first step", McCabe sees it as particularly relevant to South Ayrshire "because we are a small rural area and that means we have to work harder to make sure youngsters are able to compete, to grab business and employment opportunities.
"Uncertainty is the order of the day now in the employment market. The Enterprise Programme offers the kind of experience and skills required to fare better in a career-change lifestyle."
Alastair Noble, head of quality and service development, pinpoints the three attributes which make pupils more employable as "flexibility, creativity and reliability", all of which he says underpin enterprise education.
"It's not just to do with wealth creation. It's also to do with giving an understanding of how business operates from marketing a product and keeping accounts to answering to a board of directors and keeping shareholders happy."
Noble claims that it is easier initially to integrate enterprise education into the primary curriculum, where a single teacher can see one project right through or at least spend a specified period on it uninterrupted. The secondary curriculum, with different subject teachers, demands a higher level of co-ordination and possibly more extra-curricular teacher input.
Annette Patterson, the enterprise education manager who has been overseeing and co-ordinating the various schools' business initiatives, says "the ultimate ideal is to create an enterprise culture in each school, which involves all the staff and pupils".
She adds that many schools were already engaged in enterprise activities, though they may not have called them that. "Pupils raising money for environmental projects, running the school magazine or tuck shop, organising coffee mornings for local pensioners - these can all be looked at as enterprise projects."
But for Ayr's Provost Robert Campbell, who is chair of the Ayrshire Education Business Partnership, enterprise education is valuable because "it's totally different from the normal curriculum. It's good for youngsters to have experience of running their own businesses and to see this as a viable alternative to being employed by someone else".