Social mobility or, rather, social immobility is a prevalent issue in many societies and the UK is no exception. There are many viewpoints on exactly what causes social immobility and even more on exactly how it should be tackled. The ability to be enterprising and aspire to great heights, both professionally and as a business owner is a force for improving social mobility but how will it work in the real world?
Can enterprise education improve social mobility?
Firstly let’s briefly define the terms.
Enterprise education is the process through which children learn the principles of business and develop the associated skills and attitudes towards work and their career. At a primary level, this is focussed on becoming ‘enterprising’ rather than the mechanics of starting your own business.
Social mobility, in this context, is similar to economic mobility – the movement of people to different levels of wealth (we’ll not start talking about the class system!). What we really want it the movement of children raised in deprived areas to get to university or start a successful venture and disrupt the cycle of poverty that can affect generations of the same family or area.
The impact of enterprise education is two-fold.
The first derives from how the skills and attitudes associated with enterprise are also those associated with a strong work-ethic and high levels of achievement. The key characteristics include resourcefulness, innovative or creative thinking, hard work, team work and communication and problem-solving. Naturally, all of these are invaluable skills for everyone, regardless of their intended career path. They are required beyond the realms of ‘business’ and will be utilised extensively in further education, the recruitment process and employment in virtually every role and industry imaginable. There is no single subject or area of the curriculum, that develops these skills and provides a practical application better than enterprise education.
The second is through the introduction of positive entrepreneurial role models; the kind we created in the Clever Tykes books amongst those in real life, for example. We know that children with an entrepreneurial upbringing are more likely to succeed in business, but also that the children of the unemployed are far less likely not only to start their own business, but go to university and find a solid career. By providing role models we inspire children and help address this issue by showing how achieving great things is possible, no matter who you are.
Together, these two key features of enterprise education create a positive, ‘can-do’, attitude amongst students, something that differentiates children from their social status.
Here’s something a friend of mine told me; he has worked in school improvement in Birmingham for four decades:
What we know about children is that wherever they are, whether they’re from the most affluent or deprived areas, their intelligence levels are virtually the same. Their literacy and numeracy levels vary more because of the standard of education they receive. Where they differ most is their outlook on life. In the poorest areas, children are pessimists, they have little hope of achieving anything. Their parents don’t work, maybe they’re in and out of prison – they have a bleak view of society. Do they think are going to be successful? Go to university? Have a career, have a family? No – they don’t have any goals or aspirations. These are the things we need to address.
Of course, if enterprise education can tackle these issues, who is responsible for delivering it or bringing it to the attention of the education system? There are few resources available to teachers at a primary level and often it is the schools in more affluent areas that a) think proactively about enterprise education and b) have the budget or support to buy resources and ‘enterprise days’ for their students. Does this mean enterprise needs to become more prominent within schools, perhaps even statutory at an earlier age?
Unless enterprise education can be delivered to the underprivileged children and “hard to reach” school, it will not be a force for social mobility so we might turn to enterprise charities to help facilitate this. Should businesses be looking for more ways to support schools through their community work and corporate social responsibility activities? We’d love to hear your thoughts.