Ready-made model

Catherine Brentnall explains how Rotherham is developing an enterprising spirit among young people

The Duke of York during his visit to Herringthorpe Infants School, Rotherham.

If people know anything about Rotherham it tends to be that it has suffered massively from industrial decline and high unemployment. What most people don’t know is that we are actually world leaders in terms of doing something about the issues we face.

Like many northern towns, Rotherham experienced dire consequences when the coal and steel industries collapsed during the 1980s. As the jobs went, the town’s confidence did too – high unemployment and low aspiration are two bitter legacies that have persisted.

The physical regeneration of Rotherham got underway in 2001 and the town has benefited from new business parks, apartments and a town centre facelift. But regeneration is about more than new buildings – it’s about hearts and minds – and local businesses were raising concerns that young people still weren’t ‘work ready’, and there was a sense that people weren’t connecting to the new opportunities that were available.

There are 43,501 young people on the education roll in Rotherham – they represent the future and are the untapped potential that need to be inspired, equipped and ready to create new businesses, jobs and industries in the town. We launched Rotherham Ready in 2005 to impact on young people, and equip them with the mindset and skills to take on their future with confidence and contribute to a dynamic and thriving economy in Rotherham.

We started as a small team working within Rotherham Council’s school effectiveness department, bringing together schools, colleges and the business community to inspire teachers to embed enterprise – in all its facets – across the curriculum for all children aged four to 19.

It’s clear if you want a make a difference to attitudes and mindsets, you have to start young. For us, leaving enterprise education until secondary school and relying on a few collapsed timetable days and an annual enterprise week was not a strategy. Instead we developed three strands of activity – training teachers to develop enterprise in school and colleges, developing effective education/business partnership activities that were really engaging and supporting schools to work towards the Warwick Award for Excellence in Enterprise Education so enterprise learning, leadership and management was high quality.

The programme started with just 20 pilot primary schools willing to work with us and enabled us to develop ideas about embedding enterprise across all key stages. That’s the critical bit – you cannot simply treat enterprise as an add on – it has to be there in all school activities (one of the schools we’ve worked recently put on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream but with a difference – the pupils did all the ticketing, marketing and refreshments as well as performing).

Those first pioneer schools were instrumental – they helped other schools see the value in this approach. They could show how enterprise was improving their children’s behaviour and motivation, their attendance and achievement – and that helped us get other schools on board.

Seven years on, we’ve provided training for almost 800 Rotherham teachers across our primary schools, secondary schools and colleges, worked with 94 local businesses and helped 103 of the 130 schools in Rotherham achieve the prestigious Warwick Award for Excellence in Enterprise Education. On top of all that Rotherham was named ‘the most enterprising place in Britain’ in 2010 for our work and we’ve hosted visits from delegations from across Europe, and as far away as Japan, all keen to see what we’re doing.

It’s the comments of the hundreds of young people involved, like Billy Yates, that tell us we’re doing something right. Billy was at risk of dropping out of education, planning to leave school so he could spend more time on his PlayStation. After a year working on a market stall we set up under one of our projects he’s got a confidence he never had before.

Instead of dropping out he’s gone onto college to study horticulture, aspires to have his own business and is growing and selling his own veg in his spare time (the college Billy used to attend experienced a 15% increase in the number of young people leaving with five A*-C grades in the first three years of Rotherham Ready).

It’s not just older children who we’re influencing. Herringthorpe Infants School is in one of the most deprived wards of Rotherham and has become the first in the world to achieve a specialist award for entrepreneurship from Warwick University. The youngest children there will engage with enterprise through games and topic work.

The Duke of York recently visited the school and got involved in an activity children were doing based on the shoddy service provided by the supplier of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Children were challenged to set up their own ethical clothing company to make real garments for the emperor.

The school also holds the record for the most amount of money raised through our Make £5 Blossom programme where a local business loans pupils £150 to start their own ventures. Children at the infant school made £1,200 after they took over the running of the summer fair.

It’s important to say that enterprising learning isn’t just about making money – it’s about a broad set of life skills and a ‘can-do’ mindset that enables young people to be responsible citizens. Our work was evaluated by Ofsted in 2008 and it recognised our commitment to including the moral, ethical and environmental aspects of enterprise and economics.

We’ve still got big challenges. Our ambition is that every child has a coherent enterprise learning journey from four to 19 and that requires high levels of partnership working between schools and a sustained commitment to critically review what young people are actually experiencing.

But the greatest challenge is that despite a prolonged recession and dreadful levels of youth unemployment nationally, current education policy does not prioritise the development of young people’s enterprise capability. Learning about and for enterprise should be a critical part of a 21st century education, but it’s not part of the national curriculum so it’s down to individual schools what children and young people experience.

Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor has shown enterprise education is a factor in people having the confidence to successfully start up and run businesses, so it’s shortsighted not to invest in this early on. Changes in technology, the economy and employment have transformed the world of work and we have a tremendous responsibility to prepare young people for this.

When the Duke of York visited he made it clear he understood that one of the most important things we are doing is tackling the chronic disconnect between education and business – and harnessing the unique opportunity teachers have to change that.

We’ve launched a not-for-profit social enterprise, Are You Ready?, which is taking the Rotherham Ready philosophy to a national audience. We’ve replicated our model and launched Hull Ready, North Lincolnshire Ready, Scarborough Ready, Calderdale Ready and most recently, Derbyshire Ready and we’re looking for pioneer schools in new areas that want to work with us to develop ‘Ready’ movements.


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