Last summer, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry once again complained about school-leavers' unpreparedness for the world of work. His comments came on the back of a CBI survey of industry bosses, which found communication, team-working and problem-solving skills were lacking in new recruits.
At first glance, this might appear a little harsh. After all, the Government has instructed education business partnerships to focus their time and resources at the top end of secondary school and four years - let alone two - is hardly sufficient time for an individual to reach their potential in any field. However, even if schools are unable to get outside support to focus on specific in-depth work-related learning until key stage 4, maybe the enterprise process can be introduced earlier. Communication, team-work and problem-solving are generic concepts which apply across all subject areas and all key stages. And as Margaret Talboys, Qualifications and Curriculum Authority adviser for KS12 explains, there is more to enterprise education than enterprise itself. She says it "enables pupils to develop confidence, self-reliance and willingness to embrace change."
"Through a wide range of experiences pupils can practise the skills involved in risk management, learn from their mistakes and be creative and innovative in a safe and structured environment," she says.
At Colnbrook C of E Primary School in Slough, for instance, Tizzy Roads, a teacher from nearby Beaconsfield, is working with a class of Year 5 children on a financial capability project called Ker-ching. With the help of a scatterbrained puppet called Bess, children learn how to "budget, earn, spend and save" - a useful two-hour introduction to managing money.
However, it is the process through which children are accessing these concepts that has more general applicability across the curriculum.
"In primary schools we should be less concerned with setting up mini-businesses and more with developing the basic processes through which children can access work-related projects when they are older," says Tizzy, who is being employed by the SZ Education consultancy to deliver sessions at Colnbrook and in other local schools.
Learning is in stages, each of which builds on the last and, although the end point may be different for each group or individual, the central focus for all remains the same. Careful questioning helps the children first generate and then collate their own thoughts about how money can be earned, on what it might be spent and why it might need to be saved. With an imaginary budget of Pounds 20, thoughts and ideas gradually become more realistic, focussed around what might be needed in the future, as well as the children's immediate wants.
A simple story in which a series of items are bought for a trip to Nan's house helps the children realise that money can be spent for a purpose and also for the benefit of others. Of course, they already know this, but as awareness of the possibility comes to the forefront of their minds so their ideas change. In their own small way they are like the managing director of a major corporation - managing and manipulating resources to meet a perceived need. As they gain more information so their perceptions, attitudes, and eventually actions, change. In this two-hour session, Tizzy also makes learning real. She asks children to work out the combined cost of the items of food she needs to see her through the day. Initial estimates range from pound;5 to pound;25, but more importantly, a context is given to the more considered deliberations and calculations that follow.
She then asks what price each item might be and, after the actual costs are revealed, what is the actual amount of money Tizzy spent? The whole thing is an exercise in independent learning. Year 5 are pupils communicating, collaborating and applying their knowledge to the challenges in front of them. Sir Digby Jones, CBI's director-general, would be proud.
Ker-ching shows the potential of an enterprise approach to teaching in primary schools. Subsequent learning could take many directions. Numeracy sessions where children devise ways of representing the data they have collected would be given a purposeful real-life link, as would a literacy focus providing, for instance, instructions on how to spend pound;20 for a particular purpose.
Persuasive writing from the point of view of a shopkeeper or a bank manager - both eager to get hold of the consumer's money - would also be possible, whereas for geography, children could find out where various items of food are made or grown. In history, the question could be posed: how much and what could bought with pound;20 in 1950 or 1970?
A project based around a religious festival such as Eid or Diwali could also use the enterprise process. Planning a class celebration would mean generating ideas and, as more knowledge about the celebration and available resources is discovered, refining these collaboratively, based around changing perceptions of what is desirable and possible.
The approach would also be ideal for a topic such as the Blitz, where prior knowledge in a class is likely to be limited, not to mention full of inconsistencies and preconceptions. "You are in charge of the local air raid defences in two villages - one on the outskirts of a large city where hardly any industry is located, the other in the countryside but close to a Royal Air Force base. What plans will you draw up and which of the villages is most likely to need most of your attention?"
Here, what information the children find and where they find it is of less importance than how it is used and how it shapes perceptions of what is being studied. In both cases, and many more besides, children are using what they know to access a learning process through which they can explore what is far beyond the limitations of their own experience.
lKer-ching is run by SZ Education in partnership with Barclays Bank www.szeducation.com