Social media entrepreneur Ryan Williams explores the state of business education in the UK. He explains how Business Studies is failing promising A-Level students, how it’s putting students off entrepreneurship, and the changes that are desperately needed.
Business Studies in the UK is broken. Every year, thousands of A-Level students choose to take Business Studies, expecting to be taught the tools to turn their exciting ideas into businesses. But, in its current form, the national curriculum does nothing to grow the entrepreneurial spirit of young people. Instead, it deters them from a career in business.
My journey into entrepreneurship was, at the time, unconventional. I started by running social media accounts in my spare time, posting sports memes that went viral. One of my first football parody accounts, Deluded Brendan, even won awards at the Football Blogging Awards. Large companies began to notice, and the accounts started to draw sponsors and advertisers. It all grew from there.
Yet, after taking the Business Studies A-Level at sixth form, I was completely put off by the idea of entrepreneurship. The curriculum taught me that to start a new business, I needed a detailed business plan including sales forecasts, inventory lists, and income statements in microscopic detail. As a kid eager to create something revolutionary and excited about running a business, this was the last thing I wanted to do. So, I went on to work in IT until my hobby became my full-time job entirely by chance.
Business Studies tries to be a heavily academic subject
It is primarily exam based, does not offer any interaction with the industry, and teaches a whole host of theories from Taylor and Herzberg to the Tannenbaum-Schmidt continuum. Most of the skills you learn are intended for traditional businesses or managing employees in large corporate firms. It ignores the fact that more young people are starting small businesses than ever, with one in ten 16-24-year-olds in the UK starting businesses throughout the pandemic.
Business education in the UK needs to be revised. Yet, in the most recent Ofsted curriculum review, Business Studies was one of the only subjects not reviewed – suggesting that little is being done to correct this. It’s failing to toe the line between academic and vocational, yet still lacks the respect of academics in higher education and from students themselves. It is not equipping students with the skills they need and is allowing entrepreneurial, business-minded students to fall through the cracks, even deterring them from starting their own businesses.
So, what’s the alternative?
Firstly, exam boards need to drop the obsession with making Business Studies an academic subject in the same way as maths, physics, or history. There needs to be a practical, vocational focus, prioritising teaching skills specific to modern business. That means preparing them for operating online, using social media as a business rather than an individual, managing employees who work remotely, and all of the challenges that post-pandemic enterprises face.
We must move away from teaching super-detailed business plans and theories. When I started my business, I didn’t even need to use a balance sheet and avoided spreadsheets like the plague. We need to make it clear to kids that if numbers aren’t their thing, they can hire someone else to take care of that – that’s what most successful business leaders do.
It’s crucial to instil confidence in young people that they can start a business without knowing every single detail, instead of feeding them myths about what business should look like. Business plans and forecasting have their place, particularly further down the line, but in my experience, it is not essential to building a successful business. Having an inspiring idea and the courage to get stuck in is much more important.
Get young entrepreneurs talking to students
We need to get young entrepreneurs talking to students who can share their experiences and words of encouragement. Hearing from other young people can dispel those misconceptions around what entrepreneurship is and what an entrepreneur looks like – gone are the days of old men in blue suits with master’s degrees in economics, and students need to see local people like them who have found success.
Most of all, we need to inspire young people who have big ideas but aren’t sure how to execute them. They need to feel empowered and supported by their education, not intimidated by it. I wish I had finished school aware of the opportunities available and knowing all the different avenues that successful business people have taken. Young people should be unafraid of failure and determined to keep trying.
The benefits of rethinking business studies in the UK could be seismic
Entrepreneurship is already on the up for 16-21-year-olds. Still, this number could skyrocket with a revised curriculum. Small and medium-sized businesses turned over £2.3 trillion in 2021 alone, with businesses of fewer than 10 people contributing the largest portion of this, demonstrating just how impactful entrepreneurs can be for the economy.
There is potential for business education in the UK to provide a much-needed springboard for young people to get their start in entrepreneurship. The positive impacts this would have on our economy, young people’s confidence, and Business Studies’ reputation would be immense. Yet, it is still falling far short of its potential. With a new approach and a determination to fix the curriculum, Business Studies could unlock a whole generation of world-class entrepreneurs.
By Social media entrepreneur, Ryan Williams