Entrepreneurship in primary schools

Written by: HTU | Published:

Business and enterprise education can be particularly rewarding and effective at primary level. Former headteacher Brenda Bigland offers some advice based on the experiences of her former school

Business and enterprise education in the primary years is exciting, challenging and can energise and invigorate not just the curriculum but a whole community, including those hard-to-reach parents; but let me begin at the beginning.

Less than five years ago we did not dream that what we do now would be possible. I remember at that time a headteacher ringing me to say “Ofsted is coming in to see how we teach economic achievement and understanding and they want to look at children’s understanding of loans, payments, etc. I know we teach much of this through the other areas of the curriculum, but I do wonder if they know we are a primary school. I am worried about what they will expect to see.”

I decided the best thing for us to do to respond to this in our own environment was to look at what we already did within the curriculum, so we conducted a whole-school audit of the curriculum with all the staff working together.

We analysed where we taught economic achievement and business acumen throughout the school by looking at each subject in turn. From the age of four and in every subject we were able to track through where we enrich the curriculum and touch upon economic understanding.

This is an excellent exercise for any themed areas – such as creativity in the curriculum, international collaboration, intercultural understanding, or personal, social, health and emotional wellbeing.

It not only gives you a clear understanding of where and how we learn within the curriculum, but it ensures continuity and progression with all staff working together and sharing their findings. It also provides an evidence trail for when the inspectors come to call!

By tracking the teaching of economic achievement we ensured that we were able to show how children learn and gain some business acumen through each subject and throughout the year. But I asked myself if that was sufficient to stimulate, enrich and excite learning – the answer I came up with was that it was not.

At a rather uninspiring conference when, as many of us do, our group had veered away from the main theme and was sharing anecdotes, I heard another headteacher talking about how her older pupils ran their own small company for a week in the final term after SATs and how much they enjoyed creating something to sell to their own parents.

Are there ever really any brand new ideas? I tend to allow the words of others to drift slowly into my own psyche and then ask myself what I could do with them.

On my return to base, I shared my idea initially with my leadership team to test it out. I decided that, rather than just do this with one year band, we should turn our whole school into a business centre with each class “becoming” a small business.As with many senior leadership teams, the initial reactions varied from “it can’t be done”, to “brilliant – how and what resources are we going to need?”. A term was immediately identified where business and enterprise would become the focus for work done in the school.

We decided that our business or “enterprise” weeks would be held during the second half of the summer term. This initiative provides children from the age of four with an opportunity to conceive, develop, market, cost and sell their classes’ products as every class decides on the product they are creating, marketing and selling. Each class is then given a business site (to you and me that is a stall on sales day) to sell their products and to attempt to make a profit.

Decisions are made in the following ways:

• Mind map to agree on a product or product range (design products).

• Identification of budget (maximum budget is £100).

• Source and cost materials.

• Identification of jobs that will need to be completed within the week.

Each class produces a draft plan of what will be made, cost for materials, projected profits and ideas for target markets.

The plan is presented to the headteacher by a pair, or small group, of children – the finance team (from year 2, each business must appoint Finance Directors). Each class is given a maximum of 30 minutes to present their ideas.

Following the presentation, each class is given a sum of up to £100 as a budget with which to buy their materials. The aim is to maximise their profit as the loan will need to be repaid out of any revenue generated during the sale.

During Enterprise Weeks, children are given responsibility for different functions and every child is given the opportunity to participate; they may be part of the production team, the marketing team (creating radio jingles, television adverts, poster campaigns etc), or the sales team.

After Sales Day, the children are given time to evaluate how successful the class was and to calculate revenue generated and profits or losses made. They are also asked to evaluate their successes and to identify areas where future developments could be made.

We ran it for the first year absolutely on our own and then decided that we would seek greater expertise from the business world. At this point, I would say that you should not be deterred if you find that larger companies prefer to work with the secondary sector – they are after all seeking their immediate future workforce. I think it is a mistake on their part, as if they work with the primary phase they are helping to lay a foundation which will give them a better result in the years to come. However, I persevered and found our local Federation of Small Businesses and, after a meeting with a representative who accompanied me on a learning walk around the school, he was so enthusiastic that we drew up our plan of action immediately.

The Federation of Small Businesses is amazing as, through the companies involved, they can bring in expertise in marketing, sales, finance – in fact, all you need to set up a small business. My advice however is not to ask for too much. They are all busy people.

I asked them to come in for a day or half a day at the beginning of the project to adopt a class or a year band and to talk to them about setting up their business. Then once the business is launched, the Federation members do not return until the project is completed and the whole has been evaluated.

The businesses (each class) then created a presentation for a team from the Federation and we conducted our own Dragons’ Den day with an award being given for the four to seven-year-olds and another for the seven to 11s.

We started this as a basic way to support the “Enjoy and Achieve” strand from the previous government’s Every Child Matters, but I cannot think of a better way of enhancing teaching and learning.

Children are energised and enthused, staff join in the fun element with the children, parents become immensely supportive of their children and the business they have created, and the wider world offers its support because it can see what they have to offer the children in practical terms – and standards are invariably raised.

When we saw the enthusiasm from the parent body we asked parents to volunteer for a few hours every year, if they had the time, to support their child’s “business” with the skills they had to offer.

Again the trick is to make sure that parents know that you are not going to take advantage of their offer and ask for copious amounts of time. We were therefore able to create a database of willing parents within our own community who were happy to support, and with a variety of skills that were available for our use.

In order to ensure that we were giving credibility to the development of business acumen we also created a post within the governing body, thus ensuring we had a named governor who would impartially evaluate and challenge us in this area.These Enterprise Weeks offer a cross-curricular approach to education, covering almost all the subjects in our curriculum. For instance, with reference to literacy, there are many opportunities for speaking and listening, writing of reports and creating presentations.

Mathematics is clearly involved when costing and creating a Finance Plan, taking out a loan and considering the implications of this, and working out prices to seek a profit.

IT within the curriculum is also involved as we have remote access to learning and we share what we are doing with all our parents who can then support each small business appropriately. We also use the website to advertise each small business’s product through the school’s Radio World, perhaps by creating jingles, or through the school’s online Media World which can showcase TV adverts.

The children have even arrived at corporate social responsibility. For example, one of our year 4 classes had been teamed with a class in India for the year to share their work and the children decided that they wanted to put some of their profit towards supporting women to set up businesses in the third world.

Every year we add a new challenge. Last year every business had to have sustainability as a core requirement when setting up. A wider challenge for next year will be for each class to interact with its own partner school (each class is already linked to a school abroad) to test their business ideas within another culture and country.

The idea is to send out their product, with costs, advertising and so on to test whether it will sell as well elsewhere at the same costs and with the marketing used here! And to stretch the children’s capabilities further, I have suggested that the school charges interest on the loans the companies take out from the bank manager (the headteacher) which would be another learning curve for all.

Finally, if you cannot find business partners within your parent body or through local businesses, do not let this put you off. We did this ourselves to begin with and we could see that even then it was fun, energising and had real educational value.The project shows how a proactive school can and does ensure that the students of today are the better prepared workforce of tomorrow. What we and the children gain from each experience should help to enrich future learning and teaching and truly prepare our children to be 21st century adults within a global economy.

CAPTION: Some of the products created by four and five-year-olds at Lent Rise School as part of their enterprise programme.

• Brenda Bigland has been a headteacher for more than 20 years in both the independent and state sector. Her last headship was of Lent Rise School in Buckinghamshire. She now runs an educational consultancy called Ask Brenda, which offers confidential advice, mentoring, training and CPD. Visit www.askbrenda.co.uk.

• For more primary education best practice and advisory articles from Headteacher Update, click here.

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