How does the UK school system prepare young people for work? In light of Brexit this question has never seemed more important: for undoubtedly, secession from the EU means that the future prospects of the UK will be increasingly reliant on home-grown talent. But at what age should we begin to educate young people on business and the world of work? Is there a way to nurture entrepreneurship skills through education?
The importance of enterprise education

Enterprise education has never been so vital. Enterprise-focused courses not only instil students with financial knowledge, but also hone organisational and problem-solving skills, giving insight on the application of such within the context of business. In short, enterprise education provides students with the expertise that they will need to be employees and potential employers. A vital toolkit, surely, within a post-Brexit era.

Enterprise education in secondary schools

The recent Ofsted report, ‘Getting ready for work’, strongly recommends that more must be done to make enterprise education – and work-related learning opportunities – available in secondary schools. Following on from Lord Young’s 2014 report, ‘Enterprise for All’, Ofsted visited 40 secondary schools in order to examine the accessibility and efficacy of enterprise education.

This report, published in November 2016, analyses the methods by which secondary schools are preparing young people for the professional world. It examines relationships with local businesses, promotion of apprenticeships, and the availability of enterprise education. Unfortunately, where previous Ofsted reports have identified a decent level of enterprise education in primary schools, this report concluded that there were serious gaps in secondary education. A focus on curriculum means that, for many pupils, examinations are the driving force – which leaves little room for a broader subject like enterprise education. This narrow focus has a detrimental effect on pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, as they do not have the kind of framework – either in terms of emotional or financial support – that would allow them to explore entrepreneurship independently; moreover, they do not have access to a bank of family contacts through which they could arrange suitable work experience.

Next steps

Chief inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw commented on the importance of schools ‘providing the right opportunities’ and ‘working effectively with local businesses to offer their pupils the chance to understand how businesses work.’ Pupils from all backgrounds should have ‘access to an education that prepares them well for the next stage of their lives, be that higher education, entering employment or setting up their own business.’ Ofsted makes various recommendations within the report, with particular emphasis given to re-visiting Lord Young’s 2014 report and promoting the importance of well-planned provision for enterprise education.

Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, argues that Ofsted are central to the ‘cultural shift within the education sector’ that must occur to develop better relationships between schools and employers, in order that suitable work-related learning opportunities are made available. Quite simply, ‘Ofsted should put less of a focus on exam results’, Mr Walker argues, and more emphasis on preparing pupils for the world of work and fostering enterprise skills.

One thing seems clear, however: if the UK economy continues to be driven by small start-ups (with 2016 reports showing that entrepreneurs provide a boost of £196 billion to the UK economy), we must give budding entrepreneurs every chance to succeed. Enterprise education – at an early age – may be crucial to that success.

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