Sunday, 6 November 2011

Extra-ordinary Enterprise!

It has been a real privilege working in Sheffield over the last few months and having the opportunity to discover and learn about some of the best the city has to offer. The city has an extraordinary heritage in term of industry, innovation and enterprise and it was wonderful to be able to meet this week with their BIG Team who encourage, nurture, challenge and support schools to make enterprise part of their curriculum.

Sheffield has been developing the enterprise curriculum for many years and over the last four years over 10000 young people have benefited from an extensive range of projects including the impressive BIG Challenge. I was asked by Simon Baddeley, Learning and Skills Manager, who heads up the Enterprise work for Sheffield City Council’s 14 – 19 Team, to attend their team meeting to talk about the work I am doing and to help me find out more about the enterprise work already happening across the city. Pete Eason, Mike Garnock-Jones and Karen Wood, the School Enterprise Champions, support, sustain and grow entrepreneurial activity in schools and colleges. These colleagues have been responsible for spreading best practice from a very small base in 2007 to all 30 institutions in 2011. They aim to ensure that young people in Sheffield schools and colleges see setting up in business as a realistic career option helping them secure a qualification linked to their enterprise activity and supporting them in starting their own businesses.

The team has created projects linking schools, colleges and the universities which encourage entrepreneurs, business start ups and enterprise. They are also exploring and developing primary school projects through their links with Cadbury’s. The team have built an 'enterprise pipeline' in which young people have the opportunity to take part in the BiG Challenge, progress at 16 to the Sheffield College and take a recognised level 2 or 3 qualification and then at 19 progress to the University of Sheffield or Sheffield Hallam University and receive further enterprise mentoring and then if they wish to pursue a business idea can do so in the supported environment of a hatchery.

The 'BIG Challenge', currently entering its fifth year, has grown from strength to strength with over 250 teams entered each year and attracts investment from the private sector for ‘the BIG Prize’; a fully paid five star overseas trip to a prominent business city, where the students undertake business activity and are mentored by the host company. Teams aged 11-19 from across all the cities secondary schools and colleges have the opportunity to win, with personal rewards for every winning entrant plus ‘the BIG Prize’. Each team forms and operates a business and is given a £25 cash investment, as a starter towards their business objective of increasing that amount by making as much profit as possible, within the BIG Challenge time frame, employing teamwork, innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Sheffield College is the Hub for the Peter Jones Enterprise Academy and also has in place a venue for running a real businesses within a supported environment in the Livetech facility at the Hillsborough Barracks with plans to develop a further facility at the Peaks centre and at other sites. Sheffield Hallam University offers the Venture matrix to students. Venture matrix is a unique work based learning scheme which aims to develop the employability of students by enhancing their entrepreneurial capabilities during their academic study. Sheffield University have an arms length enterprise company –SIFE Ltd which offers students opportunities to take part in social enterprise and is also developing a programme where students visit the University to take part in enterprise activities.

This is another area where Sheffield clearly is a brand leader and doing simply extraordinary work having established connections, programmes, schemes of work and high profile projects like the BIG Challenge. The opportunity we face here as in so many areas, is to ensure that every young person experiences enterprise, innovation and creativity as part of their curriculum offer. How do we make the experience of work stimulating, engaging and real for every young person. How do we powerfully connect the world of work to the world of school and the world of learning to create meaningful experiences that develop key skills and equip young people with the character, resilience and grit they need to achieve their potential. We need to create a project based learning approach that helps young people develop the premiums DEMOS highlight in their report ‘The Forgotten Half’; the literacy and numeracy premium, the character premium, the work premium and the technical premium. We need to recognise that in a conceptual age we need young people to develop empathy, learn design skills, become storytellers and are increasingly immersed in innovation, creativity and enterprise. Young people who are strong and intelligent team workers who understand the challenges and opportunities they face and are developing meaning in their lives. You can find out more about the BIG Challenge by visiting their website at

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