Education Is Risk-Averse So Is There Room For Entrepreneur-led Innovation?

What role can entrepreneurs play in the development of the United Kingdom’s education system?

That’s a question the launch of a new initiative aimed at encouraging entrepreneurs to come forward with ideas to address what organizers describe as Britain’s “one size fits all” approach to education and learning.

Taking the form of a £1 billion prize fund, the Big Education Challenge was set up to support entrepreneurs as they develop ideas that have the potential to help students thrive in life, rather than simply preparing them to sit – and hopefully – pass exams.

It’s a worthy goal but what does entrepreneurship mean in the context of a school system that tends to be resistant to change, and perhaps for understandable reasons?

Of course, entrepreneurs are already active in the field of learning and development. This is especially true in the corporate world, where the desire of employers to improve their workers and keep budgets under control has provided opportunities for an abundance of innovative course and training providers. Right now, the web is full of education related solutions aimed at individuals who are looking to improve their skills or knowledge. Language apps, for example, or university-provided massive Open Online courses.

But when it comes to driving change at the heart of the education system itself, things get a little trickier. An employer can test a new online training course. If it doesn’t work, very little harm has been done. Other options will certainly be available.

But if you start ringing the changes around the way children and young adults work and learn in school, there could be long-term consequences. Caireen Goddard is Senior Director, Impact, at Big Change, the charity which organizes the Big Education Challenge. Education, she acknowledged, is “high stakes.” Thus, change tends to come slowly rather than in disruptive waves.

The need for change

But Goddard is keen to make the case that change is necessary. “The system is too standardized,” she says. “It’s one-size-fits-all and if you don’t fit, it’s hard to succeed.”

Research conducted by the charity suggests there is widespread dissatisfaction among young people, with 64 per cent of 18-25-year-old respondents saying the education system has not prepared them for life and 73 per cent saying the mix of subjects is not what it is They should. More than 70 percent took the view that an opportunity was missed to reform education in the wake of the pandemic.

Surveys may be imperfect, but the responses suggest there is demand for change. Where there is perhaps less consensus is what form that change might take and who might deliver it.

took the challenge

And perhaps this is where the Great Education Challenge can help. As Godard explains, the initiative is divided into two categories. The Groundbreaker Challenge, aimed at people aged 18-25 with good ideas, and the Gamechanger Challenge, which is designed to attract contestants with a track record of leading impactful ventures. £700,000 is up for grabs for the winner of the Gamechanger Challenge with the remaining £300,000 allocated to the Groundbreaker category.

But is the education sector open to innovation? As Goddard mentions, twenty years ago the Department of Education had an innovation unit, but this has since been abandoned. “It’s a very risk-averse sector,” she says.

Does this mean that any good ideas and business plans that come out of the challenge are likely to fall on deaf ears?

Goddard says progress can be made. She cites the example of Tranquiliti, a mental health tool funded (in its early days) by Big Big Change. “It provides schools with an understanding of the welfare of their students,” she says. It is beginning to expand across schools and has received further funding from the Times Educational Supplement.

Equally, ventures that offer services – such as additional classes – outside of the core curriculum can also find traction. Goddard points to Rekindle School, which offers weekend classes to students in Manchester. It has also received funding from Big Change.

There is also a place for innovations in the areas of education that may not, as it stands, be given enough weight in the current system. Godard cites oracy—education around fluent oral expression—as an example. This is an area in which another large Change-backed venture, Voice21, is active.

So there are opportunities for impact-led ventures. It is hoped that the challenge will bring more to the surface. So far there have been 100 applications for a competition which closes in February next year. But what does success look like? “If we get 15 to 20 ideas with potential from people who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten support, that would be an incredible result,” says Goddard.

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