From education to employment

Business must lead the way in FE reform

The past few weeks have seen two very different concepts emerge that address the hot topic of how the education system should be preparing young people for the challenges of the modern workplace.

At the Independent Academies Association, Education Secretary Michael Gove set out his stall for a system based on rigorous testing and rote learning.

By contrast, CBI Chairman John Cridland has criticized the “exam factory” tendency of many secondary schools, launching a new campaign designed to bring coherence to what the CBI’s report, Ambition for All, described as “35 years of piecemeal reforms”.

Where the Education Secretary has put the emphasis on knowledge, the business community – led by the CBI – are trying to show that what employers want is young people who bring skills, experience and a positive, enterprising mindset to the table, not exam-heavy automatons.

If the FE sector is to contribute to turning around the youth employment crisis, and equip the next generation with the tools to succeed in the job market, a fundamental shift of focus is needed.

At Gazelle, our strong belief is that entrepreneurial education is the change the sector needs. The 19 colleges in the group are all committed to transforming themselves through entrepreneurial principles – giving students the opportunity to experience running a business, and gain the skills and experience that they never could through traditional classroom learning.

At the recent Association of Colleges conference, we moved our project forward with the launch of an Entrepreneurial Leadership Programme, in partnership with Babson College, the world’s leading school of entrepreneurship.

Babson’s President, Dr. Len Schlesinger, spoke powerfully at the Conference, outlining his view that entrepreneurship is a practice that can be taught and learned, just like medicine, law, or carpentry.

The Leadership Programme will bring together Principals and CEOs from colleges in the Gazelle Group and 157 Group, to work on the blueprint for entrepreneurial education.

This needs to focus not only on the students, giving them the opportunities to be entrepreneurial and acquire relevant skills and experience, but on the colleges themselves.

For colleges to become genuinely entrepreneurial, we must instill a mindset that looks outward, beyond the confines of the campus, and embraces the local business community.

If students are setting up and running their businesses in isolation, then we are missing the point. The links to local businesses – be it to take on students for a placement, work in partnership, or offer mentoring schemes – are vital both to facilitating young people’s transition from education to employment, but also in placing the college squarely at the centre of the local business ecosystem.

Local businesses and colleges have a huge amount to offer each other, and the building of partnerships is something that needs to be mutually invested in. Colleges must be entrepreneurial not just in terms of their educational offer to students, but in how they exist as institutions, and interact with the business and community leaders around them.

With the Gazelle/Babson Leadership Programme, we are bringing together FE leaders to ask the questions, develop the ideas and apply the principles that will generate a new blueprint for education that is entrepreneurial through and through.

I believe this can act as a guide for colleges well beyond the 19 that currently sit in the Gazelle group. The essential principles we are dealing with are relevant, applicable and important to education across the UK, United States and beyond.

As Lord Young said at a recent seminar on business in education, hosted by Gazelle, young people are naturally entrepreneurial; what they need is the opportunity to flourish. To achieve that we must in turn release the potential of our FE sector, to be enterprising, forward-looking and utterly geared towards enabling our young people to achieve everything they are capable of.

Fintan Donohue is chief executive of Gazelle, which was created in 2011 by five college principals with an exclusive focus on building a recognisable cluster of entrepreneurial colleges within five years

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