From education to employment

Inspiring an enterprising generation

Sally Dicketts is chief executive of Active Learning

Ofsted last week published a report identifying best practice in promoting enterprise-related skills and the entrepreneurial capabilities of our 16-19 year olds.

The report follows visits by Ofsted inspectors to 15 further education colleges, including Oxford & Cherwell Valley College, at the start of the year.

The report notes that promoting a culture of enterprise is a key focus of government and industry as a means of improving economic prosperity and growth. Young people entering the workforce should be at the centre of this culture change, and as such FE providers have a major role to play.

This was our starting point as we set out to put enterprise and entrepreneurship not only at the heart of our teaching, learning and assessment, but at the heart of how we do business.

Our Making Enterprise Work strategy document, published in June, recognises that the economic downturn and immense pace of technological change means that today’s young people face a very different jobs market than their parents did.

It is now unlikely that people will enjoy long careers with a single organisation. Instead our students will have to shape their own career paths and be prepared to invest in themselves in order to get on.   Employees will have to collaborate more to come up with innovative solutions to problems and will need attributes like creativity, team work and initiative.

Our work towards building a culture and curriculum of enterprise isn’t just about developing entrepreneurs (although this plays an important part). It is based on a belief that entrepreneurial learning will help our students to develop the attributes they need to survive in business, whether that’s on their own or as an employee.

So how have we done it? One of the biggest steps has been to set up a Community Interest Company called SweetFE. SweetFE is a social enterprise, and as such operates outside of the regulations associated with large organisations. This has enabled us to ‘walk the talk’ by remaining fleet of foot and taking managed risks – all important aspects of enterprise.

SweetFE is a commercial arm, able to generate income to support our Student Fund. But more importantly it is leading a culture change by engaging staff in new ways of thinking and behaving. The company now has a dedicated team of 50 ambassadors drawn from academic and business support roles, as well as from the local business community. These ambassadors meet to develop new ideas and work together to put them into practice. Among the success stories has been SweetFE Learning, an online resource where students can have their work published – overseen by peer editors – for use by other students across the UK.

Within the classroom a new curriculum model, 4one1, is ensuring that the principles of enterprise are embedded in all curriculum areas. Through 4one1 students enjoy four weeks of intensive learning, followed by a fifth week of stretch and challenge where they are encouraged to develop new skills or spend more time on a key piece of work. In the sixth week of the pulse students take part in activities with real-life business scenarios at their core. So far this academic year these have included taking part in an Expansive Learning Conference – as delegates, hosts and organisers – and making and selling items at festive markets.

We believe that this way of teaching and learning also needs to be supported by the right facilities and environment. That’s why we have invested in new Learning Zones across all campuses, equipped with the latest technology to aid students’ research and presentation skills. The zones are supported by Learning Coaches; recent graduates who are expert in the use of technology and its applications. This investment, in part supported by SweetFE, has created more space for independent learning and offers students the chance to develop the contemporary skills demanded by employers.

Our journey to enterprise continues. As part of our commitment we are working with other, like-minded FE providers, through the Gazelle Colleges Group. This cluster of further education colleges are using entrepreneurial principles to drive educational reform and giving students opportunities to develop the skills they need for the 21st century workplace.

Importantly, as we develop, we are seeing some fantastic examples of young people raising their aspirations and having the confidence to step out and start something new. Our role is to create an environment where enterprise skills are valued and nurtured, and to model that approach across all aspects of college life. We believe that this will help our students to succeed, as well as provide industry with a new generation of creative thinkers needed to deliver the growth it so desires.

Sally Dicketts is principal of Oxford & Cherwell Valley College


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