Enterprise culture vultures

UK Chancellor Gordon Brown's call for schools to promote an enterprise culture is bad for education - and will not save business.

Josie Appleton

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Topics Politics

UK chancellor Gordon Brown has called for schools and colleges to play a role in promoting a ‘deeper and wider entrepreneurial culture’ (1). While the talk of enterprise may provide some welcome relief from the prudent chancellor’s mantra of stability, stability, stability, these proposals raise cause for concern.

‘We want every young person to hear about business and enterprise in school, every teacher to be able to communicate the virtues and potential of business and enterprise’, said Brown. Sir Howard Davies, chairman of the Financial Services Authority, will conduct a review examining current attitudes towards business and the economy among pupils and teachers, and provide a series of recommendations on how these could be improved.

Even Margaret Thatcher never went so far as to turn history lessons into lectures about getting a job, or to make religious education classes into sermons about the economic potential of British business. Once it was enough for a teacher to be adept in their subject, without forcing them to learn and teach ‘the language of enterprise’.

Anyway, the culture in schools today completely goes against entrepreneurship. Enterprising behaviour – risk-taking and competition – has practically been barred from schools. Children are not allowed to play conkers because it is considered too dangerous; some schools have banned football for being too competitive. No child is allowed to fail – school reports are wholly positive, for fear that criticism would damage a child’s self-esteem.

Even if children could be taught to be enterprising, this would not help business. Behind the promotion of enterprise culture lies a mystical idea of productivity and economic growth. Brown looks enviously over the Atlantic at USA productivity growth approaching three percent, and puts this success down to cultural attitudes. As he told a Labour Party press conference on 14 May 2001, ‘In the twenty-first century, the more enterprising our people are, the more prosperous our country will be’. The business values taught to children will ‘spread the spirit of enterprise from the classroom to the boardroom’.

Brown is avoiding the fact that US productivity statistics, if they are to be accepted, are largely down to the growth of hi-tech industries. The only people investing in hi-tech in the UK are Japanese and US firms like Fujitsu and Motorola – and they are now retrenching. Tackling the attitudes of schoolchildren is evading the problems facing business.

A more enterprising culture would be no bad thing. Brown’s proposals for teaching enterprise, on the other hand, do no more than yet again impinge upon children’s education, and further mystify the problems of business.

(1) Schools to promote ‘enterprise culture’ BBC News Online, 18 June 2001

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Topics Politics

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