To be an entrepreneur turn off the telly!


If you were to ask a sample of young people what they thought an entrepreneur was, where would they go for their answer? Most likely one of two places, both television programmes .The Apprentice or maybe Dragons Den.

That’s a lot of telly – over 230 episodes – devoted to fostering business ‘talent’. At least it would be if that was what the programmes were about. Neither programme is really about delivering talent. They are more about delivering audiences. And for young viewers that’s a problem.

Between them these two programmes play a large part shaping perceptions of what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur in this country. As far as schools go, it’s not very helpful. Young viewers could be left thinking that success equates to self-serving brashness.

Television audiences adore melodrama, pantomime villains, plucky losers, ritual humiliations and egotistical upstarts. Both shows deliver this but it’s on The Apprentice with viewing figures over 6 million which serves up the more unwholesome role models.  How could you fail to dislike Stuart Baggs who reminded us: “I’m not a one trick pony. I’m not a ten trick pony. I’m a whole field of ponies.”  Or Scott McCulloch who with no irony intended, pointed out that: “I know everything about everything!” Wannabees like these two get served up to the panel of ‘experts’ who then deliver prepared humiliations and send them on their way. 

Schools have to overcome this ‘geezer’ approach to entrepreneurship. It’s a culture of buy cheap, then rush around in a taxi to sell at a quick profit. Contestants rarely engage in a challenge over any length of time or with depth; tasks have little or no social value and modern technology seems entirely absent. They are not helped by the received wisdom which permeates the Apprentice.

“The entrepreneurial instinct is in you. You can’t learn it, you can’t buy it, you can’t put it in a bottle. It’s just there and it comes out.”


Schools might do better to see entrepreneurialism not as a facet of personality, or an event, or a discrete topic, or an aspect of business studies – but as the consequence of developing independence of thought to engage with and solve real world problems.

Entrepreneurs seem to share some of the following qualities and schools can and should play a part, despite what Lord Sugar says, in developing them.

  • Appropriate Knowledge
  • Social acumen
  • Flexibility of Thought
  • Willingness to adjust from failure
  • Tolerance of Risk
  • Financial Acuity

Schools can teach some of these, others can be developed and all can be part of a whole-school experience.

Many schools, including those twenty Academies with sponsorship from Dragons Den panellist Peter Jones, attempt to encourage entrepreneurialism through a whole school ‘can do’ ethos. His view is that entrepreneurs ‘are not born, they’re made” and he has put his money into proving it.

The Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy have linked with big local employers such as Komatsu to sponsor their Open Badges system and youngsters who are successful in hitting mutually agreed targets are guaranteed interviews with the employer. Woking High introduced a 10-day curriculum, with the 11th day devoted to creative teaching and learning. On Day 11, the whole school’s timetable is collapsed, and pupils take part in creative learning activities such as enterprise activities, cross-curricular projects and challenges

Schools who work with local charities offer pupils an alternative enterprise experience. Lampton School has a Youth Philanthropy Initiative. Pupils research and select local charities that they want to work with to raise funds and visit the charity they’ve selected. After the visit, they develop a project to raise funds and awareness of the charity.  Denes High School pupils collaborate with a local primary school. Working as an environmental energy consultancy, they find ways to save money for the schools.

At Worsborough Primary in Barnsley technology, absent in Lord Sugars Apprentice, is immersed in school life. QR Codes surround pupils’ display to allow parents to access videos of their children talking about their work. IPads are used by Year 2 to animate stories they have been reading. Pupil workings are projected via Bluetooth onto the classroom wall in Year 5 maths. The school hall has been transformed by linking four projectors   – three which project onto a long wall and another down onto the floor – to a computer programme which can instantly recreate scenes from books, the natural world, history or modern life.  Recently children planned, costed and experienced a trip abroad with the ‘airport’ and all its security, check-in and the flight itself recreated by staff and students in the hall..

At Honywood School in Essex, an IPad school, staff and students have collaborated to design an App called My Learning Choices which operates like a seat booking system on a plane. Except in this case Year 7 and 8 are booking extra lessons which then take place in a scheduled block of time at the end of each day.  The discussions around choices are invaluable in talking about progress.

Duncan Bannatyne one of the first television Dragons says: ‘We need to get entrepreneurialism in the psyche of kids and give them the confidence to produce multi-million pound businesses in this country.’ To do so successfully schools might encourage pupils to switch off the telly, reject the brash self-centredness and show confidence in creating their own solutions.

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