Entrepreneurs: born or created?

North East Education Forum rules that entrepreneurs can be ‘created’ by education system

Education leaders from across the region believe that entrepreneurial skills can be taught in schools. Members of the North East Education Forum, including headteachers, were asked the specific question: ‘Can entrepreneurs be created via the education system, or are they born?’

Kieran McGrane, Headteacher at Ponteland High School, said: “I don’t believe that entrepreneurs are born, if this was the case there would be little or no value in education at all.

“My view is that developing an entrepreneurial spirit begins with ensuring that schools offer a range of opportunities for students to take risks, develop ideas and cope with the possibility of failure and setbacks; these opportunities can be within the taught curriculum and/or exist outside of formal lessons.”

Chairman of the forum, Lesley Robinson, co-director at First Class Supply, said: “I’d agree that entrepreneurship is something that can be taught and fostered in schools. Through our day-to-day work with schools throughout the region, we are definitely seeing a more focused approach to the teaching of business alongside more academic subjects.

“As well as providing more traditional business studies courses, a lot of schools are now also providing project-based opportunities that can really bring out fledgling entrepreneurial talent. Many schools are now starting to encourage bold and creative entrepreneurship or are introducing students to the concept of ‘intrapreneurship’ – that is, when employees in organisations undertake something new without being asked to do so. Initiatives such as the Primary Enterprise Challenge set up by the Newcastle United Foundation are excellent vehicles for encouraging this sort of entrepreneurial spirit. They can help to create the entrepreneurs and indeed the ‘intrapreneurs’ of the future.”

David Dunn, Headmaster at Yarm School, said: “During my 16 years as headmaster of Yarm School I have worked to foster the ‘holistic’ student. That is, someone who is able to survive, indeed thrive, in today’s demanding modern workplace and as an entrepreneur.

“The principle, and practice, of a holistic education not only prepares pupils for academic success, but also enables them to learn to deal with the challenges of adult life. The typical Yarm alumni are not solely defined by qualifications but by a certain confidence combined with modesty and strong interpersonal and leadership skills; attributes which stand them in good stead when running a business. Schools have the ability to instill entrepreneurial qualities including self-assurance, initiative, motivation, creativity, original thinking and leadership in their pupils.”

Christine Forsyth, Headteacher at Woodham Academy, Newton Aycliffe, said: “I am not sure that it is the role of the education system to create entrepreneurs, rather than, in the true sense of the word ‘educate’, to bring out the innate talents of each individual child. However, schools can and do develop those skills essential to entrepreneurialism, such as creativity, risk taking and sound mathematical understanding.

Dr Bernard Trafford, Headmaster of the Newcastle Royal Grammar School, said that entrepreneurial skills were mostly innate but believed that they could be fostered in schools: “The old argument about nature versus nurture seems to be stronger, in the modern world at least, when people talk about entrepreneurism than about any other topic. As for me, I’m pretty sure that we cannot aim specifically to teach entrepreneurism in schools.

“So are entrepreneurs born? Certainly some are. Sir Richard Branson is often the best example given. He left school at the age of 16: he’s very dyslexic and school wasn’t doing much for him. At our best, schools also encourage the kind of experimentation and “having a go” – in the words of Branson – that is the stuff of successful entrepreneurship. In schools we do indeed try to promote: resilience; determination; Readiness to learn from failure; creative and original thinking.”

Selwyn Thompson, Curriculum Leader for Creative Arts at Burnside Business and Enterprise College, said: “Working in a Business and Enterprise College, I firmly believe that entrepreneurship can be taught to a certain degree, and nurtured through the education system. However, I believe that the key to this is not only rooted in a ‘business-based’ approach, but more deeply, through an understanding of creative approaches to challenges.

“Entrepreneurship relies heavily on the individual having the mind-set, resilience, independence and ability to risk-take that needs to come from within, but can also be taught and developed. This does rely on quite creative approaches – creating a culture for learning where not succeeding immediately is not condemned; rather it is seen as a vital part of the process.”

Lynn Watson, Director of Education at the Percy Hedley Foundation (a charity for children, young people and adults with special educational needs and disabilities): “Entrepreneurial skills such as good communication, thinking skills, financial management can be taught. However, application of these skills in terms of measuring effectiveness is a much more difficult concept to consider.

“Some of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs have overcome difficulties in their past and as a result have had to devise strategies to overcome weaknesses. Some personal preferences may support the development of creative thinking but I think the education system can teach many of the underlying skills necessary to succeed in life.”

Gill Reid, Programme Leader for PGCE School Direct Northumbria, said: “The best education is based on opportunities. From the early years, children who are encouraged to be risk aware rather than risk averse begin developing an understanding of how to plan ahead based on information and growing experience. An education system that encourages mixed ability approaches to problem solving, using and applying knowledge, is equipping children and young adults to value not only their own skills but to recognise expertise in others. 

“The challenge for educators is to manage the academic requirements creatively and flexibly to provide opportunities where entrepreneurial skills are valued, opportunities for entrepreneurial engagement created and individuality of thought and motivation are expected. Carol Dweck has written widely about the importance of a ‘growth mind set’; talent and intelligence do not necessarily lead to success. A focus on personal development and self-belief will. The challenge for the education system is to provide opportunities and to challenge beyond the expected curriculum to foster enterprise, vision and resilience in its students.”

The North East Education Forum is in association with First Class Supply, providing an authentic opportunity for debate on topical subjects for people with a credible opinion in the education sector.


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