It’s Time for E-levels


There’s a simple truth that all parents know. Letters from school are very rarely good news:

It has come to our notice that…

It is with some concern that I write to you regarding your son…

And, of course

The school nurse has regrettably informed me of an outbreak of head lice.

Yes, almost always bad news: unless of course, your son or daughter goes to Saint Francis High School in Mountain View, California.

Last week the Principal sent out a rather unusual letter: Dear Parents, we’ve made $24m…

You may have seen that Snap Inc. – parent company of messaging app Snapchat – floated on the New York Stock Exchange. The company has never made a profit – last year it lost $515m – but that didn’t stop investors piling into the stock, attracted by Snapchat’s 161m daily users. The price rose from the initial $17 a share to end the opening day at $24.48 – valuing the company at $28bn.

That was good news for the company’s backers, great news for the two founders, Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, both still in their twenties and both now multi-billionaires – and quite extraordinary news for Saint Francis High.

Back in 2012 the school – encouraged by one of their parents who had seen how excited his children were by a fledgling app – invested $15,000 in a little known start-up. That start-up was Snapchat and, five years later, the principal has been able to write to parents regarding the small matter of $24m. We can assume that the cake stall won’t be so crucial in the future…

Meanwhile in the UK there’s a crisis over school funding. I was listening to Radio 4 the other morning when the head of Altrincham Grammar School for Boys said that the school was considering asking for voluntary contributions of £30 to £40 per month from parents, with “many other” schools also apparently considering a similar move.

One head teacher went much further, suggesting that if the funding problems couldn’t be resolved she would need to run her school on a four-day week, scrap the sixth-form or remove arts subjects from the curriculum.

Despite this, Philip Hammond, our (relatively) new Chancellor, has committed himself to spending £500m on vocational education. The move was trailed on Sunday morning’s Andrew Marr Show and confirmed in Wednesday’s Budget. It’s a bid to train more skilled workers and thereby boost productivity and the UK economy. The plans will see 15 ‘routes’ into employment, linked specifically to the needs of employers.

The government is calling these plans – due to be introduced from the 2019/2020 academic year – “the most ambitions educational reform since the introduction of A-levels some 70 years ago.” The new qualifications will be known as ‘T-levels’ and will increase the amount of training available to 16-19 year olds by 50%.

And I’m absolutely in favour of the move. I don’t often quote former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, but he was right when he said, “It takes the British worker to Friday to do what the equivalent French or German worker will do by Thursday afternoon.”

The country has to close the productivity gap – but let’s not stop at T-levels. Let’s have E-levels as well.

business_kid

Yes, let’s see Entrepreneurship on the National Curriculum.

Why shouldn’t schools take a leaf out of Saint Francis High’s book and invest in emerging local companies? And why shouldn’t Entrepreneurship be a recognised subject alongside Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths?

The scientist, the engineer or the mathematician might well go on to start a business in the future. But they won’t do that without the entrepreneurial spark: if there was ever an education secretary brave enough to kindle that flame and put Entrepreneurship on the curriculum then he or she would have done the country an enormous service.

Because let us be clear on one thing: it is the entrepreneur, not Government policy, that creates jobs and growth. It is the entrepreneur’s willingness to sacrifice security, to put his house on the line, to give up sick pay and holiday pay and pursue a dream that, yes, benefits himself and his family. But at the same time it also enriches – figuratively and literally – the country and the wider economy.

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