Do we need to teach five-year-olds how to run a business?

IT WASN’T that long ago that schools were encouraged to ban competitive sports, with more than two-thirds of all schools running sports days with no winners or losers. A staggering 77% of primary schools surveyed in 2010 admitted that, in the spirit of inclusivity, all participants of their annual sports day received a prize. ‘It’s not the winning,’ the old adage goes, ‘it’s the taking part.’

Of course we all know that’s complete bunkum, and for once the government seems to be heading in the right direction. Education Secretary Michael Gove (not in the running for any popularity prizes himself) has pledged to bring back competitive sport in schools, and a report commissioned by OFSTED this year called ‘Going the extra mile’ concludes that schools with high sporting standards have similarly high expectations in the classroom. In other words: let’s bring back a bit of competitive spirit, and cultivate an environment in which pupils excel.

This drive to pit kids against each other is mirrored in the rather bizarre announcement that primary school children as young as five will be taught how to set up their own businesses. The reforms have been proposed by Lord Young of Graffham, a former Cabinet minister whose memoirs The Enterprise Years: a Businessman in the Cabinet chart his own entrepreneurial rise across a range of businesses. Lord Young now advises the government on matters relating to trade and enterprise. His latest brainwave aims to tackle the nation’s negative attitude to self-employment, making Britain more supportive to independent traders and entrepreneurs.

The principle is laudable, but are primary schools the place to start? Left to their own devices, any business set up by my six-year-old twins would include a combination of Minecraft, loom bands and Bourbon biscuits. You’re unlikely to see it floated on the stock exchange any time soon. Early childhood is short enough, without filling playtime with junior versions of The Apprentice.

Few parents will argue against a bit of healthy rivalry – in school or out of it – but it’s hard to feel any enthusiasm this sudden urge for competition when it’s likely the pendulum will swing back the other way in a matter of years. Another election; another government, and before too long we’ll be banning sports day again and making a raft of eight-year-olds bankrupt from their fledgling enterprises. On that basis, I think I’ll sit this one out.

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Clare Mackintosh

Written by Clare Mackintosh

Clare Mackintosh is a freelance feature-writer, columnist and crime novelist, and a former Police Inspector. Follow her on Twitter @claremackint0sh or read her blog at

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