Researchers in the Scottish Executive have admitted there is no evidence to suggest that the plethora of school activities under the enterprise education umbrella improves the exam results of the vast majority of pupils or eventually leads to the creation of new businesses.
Ministers are investing a massive pound;40 million over the next three years to stimulate what they are relabelling enterprise in education - up from the present pound;2.5m - but an Executive report confirms that the worthy initiative is based on only flimsy evidence.
Nicol Stephen, the Deputy Education Minister, on Tuesday revealed the findings of a major review of enterprise activities and described the report, Determined to Succeed, A Review of Enterprise in Education, as the most significant document he had been involved in during his political career. It will force schools to introduce entrepreneurial activities and ensure they are held accountable.
Mr Stephen wants nothing less than a revolution in enterprise or business culture that he believes begins in schools.
However, the minister's own department, in a separate report, admits that while disaffected young people benefit from a work-related curriculum, there is no study which shows it improves the exam performance of the rest, despite 20 years of enterprise in schools.
The only evidence is that enterprise approaches help identify previously unrecognised strengths and abilities and develop core skills. Essentially, pupils like being out of school and learning in non-school environments.
"Enterprise approaches are reported to develop relevant skills and attitudes for their working lives, though the same caveats as to the limited nature of the evidence apply," the researchers state.
They also question the link between school-based enterprise activities and later business start-ups.
"There is a lack of hard evidence of the outcomes in terms of the nature and extent of knowledge and skills developed. Most of the research on the benefits of enterprise approaches and other EfWE (Education for Work and Enterprise) activities is based on pupil self-reporting and perceptions of others - albeit based on professional judgment.
"More rigorous research on the knowledge gained, levels and types of skills achieved and attitude change would be beneficial," they stress.
The researchers admit that the ultimate goal is to create more businesses, jobs and prosperity but warn that it is unrealistic to measure the outcomes of parts of educational provision against the long-term aim. They say: "The most appropriate measures by which to judge the effectiveness of EfWE in schools is the extent to which young people have developed the attitudes, skills and knowledge which are identified as the positive attributes of effective, enterprising employees and potential entrepreneurs."
Mr Stephen issued a stirring call for young people to take business risks and end the Scottish fear of failure but evidence also shows higher attainment in school and beyond remains the vital factor in whether businesses succeed or collapse. "Figures suggest that those who survive longer having started a business are those with higher level qualifications," the minister's department reveals.
Enterprise report, page 4 Leader, page 12