How does one go about bringing the message of social enterprise to secondary age students? This is a question that we have been pondering over and examining for a number of months now. Larry Sullivan is doing some great work bringing the message to under and post-graduate students, but one could argue that mindsets are sometimes already formed at this stage and to achieve real traction we need to work with students whilst they are still at school and opinions and attitudes are forming.

To my eyes, there are a number of small social enterprise companies out there, some of which are doing an excellent job educating primary and secondary age students in the world of business and enterprise. I have witnessed primary students completely enthralled in the prospect of running their own venture and there is something about the activities involved that really brings out the creativity and inventiveness that I believe sits within every young person.

Given a framework and access to expert guidance, students quickly pick up the basic concepts associated with enterprise. They are quickly holding animated conversations about what they could make or buy and how these items might sell (and to whom). With a framework provided and some assistance they are able to put together a business plan and brainstorm how they might sell enough to create a healthy profit. Dependent upon age, they can then go on to look at turnover, operating costs, quality assurance and predicting future profit / losses.

We are arguably living in the last generation that will know what it is like to be employed under a ‘traditional’ contract so these skills are all valuable. Most students today will go on to have a number of different careers and many will at some stage be self-employed, setting their own direction and perhaps employing others. What they know will be less significant than how they are able to use this knowledge to create opportunities and solve, often complex, business and societal problems. The skills acquired and polished within these enterprise activities, including: teamwork, communication, emotional intelligence and empathy, and last but not least the determination to see a problem through to a solution, will be vital assets.

At secondary level, students may go on to GCSE or A Level studies in Business or Economics. There is nothing wrong with these qualifications per say, they have a value and provide a body of knowledge that students can then draw on at university and within later life. However, the real learning, in my opinion, comes when students are taken out of their comfort zones and are given real-life challenges that force them to think differently and to apply this acquired knowledge into practice outside a textbook scenario.

What is comforting is that the newly refreshed GCSE, and one would hope when they come, A Level qualifications, are for the first time looking at the wider concepts of business. More specifically, it emphasizes the need for businesses to consider their environmental footprint, how they might engage better with their local and global communities and what responsibility they have to ‘pay forward’ into these communities.

The activities at The Heathland School last month were designed as an entry-level introduction to some of these complex issues. It is hoped that having experienced some success, the school will seek to build social enterprise, even in a small way initially, into their school curriculum. The Heathland School is a large and successful mixed sex secondary 11-18 comprehensive in Hounslow and COINS Foundation were invited in some months ago to look at how we might start to engage with students and develop an on-going relationship with the school.

The Cookie Bar Bus

Every year the school runs a charity week, which involves the whole school community in engaging thoughts and actions around how they can work to the benefit of others. It is an initiative that takes a great deal of organisation and it is to be applauded. From the many charities represented each year, the students vote to select three that they will then ‘adopt’ and work with over the coming year.

We brought the bus in to work with a number of sixth form students who had volunteered to work with us serving staff and the student population over two full days, thus raising money for the overall school total.

The first thing that you need to know is that a Routemaster Bus, open to the elements in late November is not a warm place to be! We opened ready to serve staff breakfast at 7.45 am and customers were queuing at the hatch with cash in hand at least 10 minutes before this! Over the two days we turned over approaching £2,000 as business remained brisk throughout. Perhaps just as importantly a steady stream of sixth form students served, learned how to make coffee, baked and effectively ran a small business for 48 hours. Partially as a result of the Cookie Bar Bus’ involvement, and with COINS Foundation funding all operating costs to assist the student’s endeavours, the school made record profits this year – a fantastic achievement!

The three charities selected by students this year are:

• The Rohingya Refugees – Tearfund campaign
• Children with Cancer UK and
• Refuge – a local charity set up for those fleeing domestic abuse.

I do have one bit of bad news for the Heathland School staff though, sadly we will not be back every week, even if marking does become a lot easier with a ‘decent coffee and a brownie in-hand’.