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In their draft education manifesto, the Conservatives are proposing that the primary curriculum should be organised around subjects like Maths, Science and History. No-one can dispute the value of literacy and numeracy, or that these types of subjects are important to a child’s education and development. But, with an increasingly tight and traditional focus, do we run the risk of applying too narrow an approach at such a young age?

Reverting back to traditional subjects might enable parents to identify closer with what their child is learning, as it is familiar to them, but I would argue that this is not necessarily the right thing to do if we want to prepare young people to succeed in tomorrow’s world.

In February last year, Professor Robin Alexander released The Cambridge Primary Review which suggested that teaching and learning in primary schools is already focused too much towards the core subjects rather than reflecting 21st century realities and needs.

It is clear that gaps exist in the current curriculum and I believe that if we move further away from developing children’s skills and more towards pure subject areas we risk creating a generation of young people ill equipped to succeed in a modern global economy. I’m not saying every child should learn how to make money and run a business from the moment they start school but there needs to be a balance between the core curriculum and skills for enterprise and employability.

You only have to open any newspaper on any day to see the effects of the current economic climate on businesses across the country. Confidence is down and employment freezes have taken place in almost every industry across the UK. As a result, unemployment currently stands at almost 2.5million, with over 900,000 16-24 year olds also out of work. By fostering an enterprising spirit and encouraging our young people to think about life choices we could realistically drive the recovery forward and halt this worrying rise.

Industry figures released this month showed that 476,000 new businesses set up in the first 10 months of 2009, with the full-year total likely to rise above the 525,000 start-ups for 2008. This clearly indicates that people are using entrepreneurial skills to show strength in the face of adversity but we need to make sure we nurture this attitude in our young people. Inspiring and nurturing the next generation of enterprising and employable young people is clearly vitally important to ensure that we create a sustainable future and prevent future recessions, and I believe that the benefit of sparking this at a young age should not be under-estimated.

Since taking up my post at Young Enterprise I have seen the fantastic work that our business volunteers do to encourage children as young as primary age to think about the world around them. I understand the apprehensions people might have with teaching children as young as five about work and money, but, in our long standing experience, allowing children to understand the options they have and introducing them to role models from the wider world of work adds considerable value to the existing curriculum. This kind of learning takes pupils on a journey beyond their immediate classroom environment, raising aspirations and engaging young people with their journey through education, training and beyond.

That is not to say core subjects should be rejected, they are an integral part of a child’s development , but taught in line with the broader experiences of enterprise and employability will ensure that young people will have the aspirations, skills and attitudes needed to succeed.
By inspiring children as young as primary age about the world of work we can build a sustainable and enterprising future for the UK. It is as much about developing their attitudes and behaviours as well as their knowledge and understanding as we strive to help young people progress throughout their lives.

John May is Chief Executive of the UK’s leading enterprise education charity, Young Enterprise


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