Adrian Lyons explains OFSTED’s consistent view that enterprise education must be based on a firm foundation of knowledge.

There has been considerable discussion recently regarding knowledge and skills. It is interesting to note that this discussion is long established with Ofsted’s commentaries on enterprise education. As long ago as 2008 Ofsted’s then national advisor for economics, business and enterprise, David Butler HMI advised the chief inspector of the time that: ‘The focus tended to be on the development of enterprise skills, reflecting the emphasis of the government’s strategy, and financial capability and economic and business understanding were less well developed. Only a minority of schools had identified the learning outcomes for students as they progressed through the school and very few had systems in place to assess them.’

The following year, David again advised that: ‘Students not taking business examination courses often had a weak understanding of economics, business and personal finance. However, their enterprise capability appears to be better developed, possibly reflecting the impact of the government’s enterprise strategy that has placed greater emphasis on skills than economic and business understanding. ‘

By 2011 Gwen Coates had become Ofsted’s national adviser and she reported internally that: ‘The provision for, and development of, all students’ enterprise capability was often good, however, the provision for, and development of, all students’ economic and business understanding, and their financial capability was more variable.’ She identified as a key issue: ‘the need for enterprise education programmes to have clearly identified learning outcomes that enable pupils’ progress, in relation to developing understanding and skills, to be monitored and assessed.’

Since 2005, Ofsted has consistently used a definition of enterprise education which is: ‘Enterprise education is enterprise capability supported by better financial capability and economic and business understanding’ i.e. it is about developing skills, but very much underpinned by knowledge and understand. We have consistently criticised an over-emphasis on skills, (innovation, creativity, risk-management and risk-taking, a can-do attitude and the drive to make ideas happen) when as is so often the case, this is not set in a context of providing pupils with economic, business and financial knowledge and understanding. Ofsted’s 2005 report ‘Developing Enterprising Young People’, commented that: ‘Most schools are good at identifying opportunities for enterprise learning in the curriculum but are less good at identifying what students are expected to achieve from these experiences.’

The 2005 report went on to identify as a problem the lack of involvement of business and economics specialist teachers in the delivery of enterprise citing two reasons being:

  • ‘enterprise education is seen as being only about the development of generic skills such as problem solving and creativity with little attention given to economic and business understanding or financial capability
  • there is a mistaken belief that economic and business understanding and financial capability can be taught by anyone’.

Thirteen years later current chief inspector Amanda Spielman, commenting on Ofsted’s curriculum research, is clear that in the whole school context, ‘twelve years of education should give children a lot more than a disposition to learn some ill-defined skills. Yet the evidence from the first stage of our research this year is that the focus on substance, on the knowledge that we want young people to acquire is often lost’.

The personal finance aspect of enterprise was a focus for Ofsted’s 2008 report ‘Developing Financially Capable Young People’. In this report there is a clear message concerning the need for knowledge. The report identified as a main contributor to successful provision: ‘Good teaching was characterised by teachers’ confident subject knowledge, skilfully managed discussions, relevant contexts, and tasks that engaged students. External agencies and other resources were used very effectively to support teaching and learning.’

The report identified the unique economics subject specialist contribution to making a ‘financially capable young person’ in the subject’s contribution to combing knowledge, understanding and skills:

  • ‘Financial capability requires an understanding of the key terms and ideas associated with personal finance, the skills to make sensible financial decisions and the development of appropriate attitudes to managing money. Young people must acquire not only factual knowledge but also an appreciation that there are often no ‘right’ answers because decisions depend on individual circumstances and preferences. For example, the decision whether to take out fully comprehensive car insurance requires an understanding of different types of insurance and their comparative risks and benefits. However, the decision taken will vary between individuals according to the value they place on the car, their financial circumstances and how they assess risk.’

Summarising the attainment of pupils in financial education the report concluded:

  • ‘They often had a good grasp of particular aspects of personal finance but had gaps in their understanding elsewhere. In some cases, this was because there were still aspects of the course to be covered. More often, these deficiencies were because schools had not established comprehensive programmes of personal finance education that clearly identified the full range of learning outcomes students were expected to achieve by the age of 16. Students taking accredited courses often had the most comprehensive understanding of personal finance. This reflected the coherent nature of the provision and the substantial amount of lesson time devoted to it.’

Ofsted’s 2011 report ‘Economics, Business and Enterprise Education’ found that:

  • The schools visited did much to promote students’ enterprise capability by a whole range of often highly engaging and wide-ranging provision in this area. As a result, in more than half of the schools visited, students were developing good problem-solving and teamworking skills, including negotiation, cooperation, planning and organisation.
  • However, in the secondary schools, economic and business understanding, and financial capability were not as well developed and were often weak. As a result, students often had only vague ideas about the economy, interest rates and their impact, recession, inflation, why prices vary and the ownership of companies.
  • The report picked up on previous concerns regarding teachers’ lack of subject knowledge:
  • ‘Many of the teachers deployed to deliver aspects of enterprise education were non-specialists, who had little or no training or experience of this area. This limited their confidence and ability to teach effectively. This was particularly the case in relation to economic and business understanding and financial capability for students in the secondary schools.’

Finally, in 2016 Ofsted’s report ‘Getting Ready for Work’ explicitly stated that,

  • ‘Enterprise education involves teaching pupils the knowledge and skills they will need to be future employees and potential employers. It includes, but is not limited to, teaching financial and organisational capability, while also providing opportunities to raise pupils’ awareness of problems and solutions in the context of business and enterprise.’ One of the key finding was that, ‘Even where schools were delivering enterprise education, it was often unclear whether this was having any impact on pupils’ knowledge, understanding and skills.’

Ofsted recommended that Secondary schools should:

  • ensure that there is a coherent programme to develop enterprise education, including the economic and business knowledge, understanding and skills of all pupils
  • ensure that these programmes have effective mechanisms for monitoring and assessing progress in relation to developing knowledge, understanding and skills.

Ofsted has a long and consistent message to schools that in enterprise education skills need to be underpinned by a coherent approach to the acquisition of knowledge and understanding.

Adrian Lyons HMI, is Ofsted’s National Lead for Economics, Business and Enterprise