Tycoon admonishes teacher 'snobs': enterprise isn't the 'enemy' of academic study

11th March 2011 at 00:00

Teachers' snobbery about business and the profit-motive is stopping schools from effectively teaching entrepreneurship, according to one of the country's top businessmen.

Luke Johnson, the man behind the success of Pizza Express and a multi-millionaire private equity boss, said there is an "innate suspicion" among teachers that people in business are "dodgy".

Mr Johnson, who is also chairman of arts charity RSA, is calling for teachers to help overcome the divide between the classroom and the boardroom by valuing entrepreneurship as highly as academic study. Some teachers only pay lip service to the notion, running schemes and clubs when their hearts are not in it, he said.

"The single most important thing is teachers themselves believing in what they are doing, and not being contemptuous of the profit motive, capitalism and business in general - not seeing it as something to be derided," Mr Johnson said.

"There is an innate suspicion that anyone in business is dodgy, a lower class of citizen than a doctor or a scientist, but we need wealth creators giving people a higher standard of living. Teachers have to embrace it, see it as important as academic study. It is about getting rid of the snobbery.

"Teachers do an admirable job, but quite a lot are suspicious or dismissive of capitalism and entrepreneurialism. It is a cultural divide."

Mr Johnson - a former chairman of Channel 4 and owner of restaurant The Ivy - said the power of unions in schools, which see capitalism as "the enemy", was contributing to the anti-business atmosphere in education.

"We have all had experiences of teachers who are dismissive of the profit motive, but at the end of the day, the private sector is what pays the salaries and bills for schools.

"Teachers should be encouraging, promoting the idea of working for yourself, employing people, running a business, as something to be admired, serious and important."

Mr Johnson, who is due to talk about the topic at the Independent Schools Council's annual conference next week, said teaching entrepreneurship was "more important" than teaching academic economics. "Schools should teach book-keeping and how to sell," he said.

He added that part of the responsibility rested with entrepreneurs themselves, who need to go into school assemblies and staffrooms more often.

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "Anyone who thinks schools aren't interested in teaching entrepreneurship has not visited many schools in recent years.

"There are student-led businesses, enterprise clubs and innovative programmes to teach business basics in schools and colleges up and down the country.

"However, it is true that the majority of teachers do not have recent real-world experience in private industry," Mr Lightman said. "That is why it is so important for business leaders to get involved with schools, and to encourage and allow their employees to do the same.

"Most schools and colleges would welcome someone like Luke Johnson with open arms if he offered to get involved in a programme to promote entrepreneurship to students."



Grammar school; graduated from Oxford in 1983.


1993-99: Expanded Pizza Express from 12 to 250 restaurants.

2004-10: Chairman of Channel 4.

Chairman and founder of private equity house Risk Capital Partners.

Part-owner and chairman, Giraffe Restaurants and Patisserie Valerie.

Founder, Strada restaurant chain. Principal owner, GRA, the largest greyhound track owner in the UK.

Chairman, arts charity RSA.

Founder of think-tank the Institute of Entrepreneurs.

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