Enterprise for All = education for none
Published today, the title Lord Young’s report on education and entrepreneurship, Enterprise for All, has all the rhetorical flourish of a call to arms. As Phil Mullan has previously pointed out on spiked, there are indeed some fundamental problems with investment and productivity in Britain, so perhaps it’s true that big thinking is needed to address the nation’s underlying economic problems.
So what solutions are being proposed by the former head of the Manpower Services Commission (MSC) and current enterprise adviser to UK prime minister David Cameron?
Answer: the ‘Fiver Challenge’. This is a scheme whereby primary-school children receive £5, which they then have to use to make a profit. One young girl has already started turning a profit by selling pic’n’mix sweets as part of a pilot scheme. Quite how this particular ‘enterprise’ will fare in light of the government’s other aim – to use schools for ‘sweeping reform’ of ‘unhealthy’ eating habits – remains to be seen.
Having studied standards and techniques in schools, Lord Young has concluded that they are irrelevant to today’s Britain, which is slipping in the International Entrepreneurship and Development Index. Instead, we have a perverted re-run of the late 1970s when then Labour prime minister James Callaghan, in what is known as his ‘Ruskin College speech’, berated educators for failing to instil enough respect for, and information about, industry into education, from primary to university level. We are now set to see more ‘sweeping reforms’ to change attitudes towards enterprise.
Callaghan launched a public debate on the relationship between education and industry. In its wake, the Manpower Services Commission and other institutions oversaw the effective destruction of any semblance of a liberal education for youngsters in further education. From that point onwards, students were offered an incoherent mush of ‘business and life skills’ that aimed to change young people’s attitudes in accordance with the perceived needs of business. No doubt business today has many needs, and we all have attitudes we would like to change, usually in others. But to think that making five-year-olds aspire to be successful entrepreneurs makes economic, logical or educational sense is risible.
By promoting enterprise, schools are in danger of ‘sweeping away’ education. Around 100 years ago, French sociologist Émile Durkheim argued that the role of schools was to educate pupils for more than future employment. In 1963, John Newsom, in his government report, Half Our Future, argued that ‘education for all’ meant offering a liberal curriculum to all pupils. It’s worth remembering that however partially realised were these ideas, they offered far more to children than a patronising but ‘relevant’ education, or guff about opening the gateway to national economic growth.
Alka Sehgal Cuthbert is reading for a PhD in the philosophy of education. She is a member of the Institute of Ideas Education Forum.