Tom Ravenscroft is the founder of Enabling Enterprise, an organisation that addresses the fundamental chasm between education and the world of work by increasing the enterprising behaviour of students, teachers and schools to revitalize the education system.
The New Idea
Enabling Enterprise aims to address the fundamental gap between education and the world of work by increasing the enterprising behavior of students, teachers and schools. While enterprise education has a long history as an activity within school’s programs, it has remained at the periphery of mainstream education systems. Tom founded Enabling Enterprise to tackle the root cause of this challenge: the fundamental chasm between education and the world of work, as well as the false perception that so called ‘soft’ skills are immeasurable and therefore of lower priority. He has developed a methodology and a shared language demonstrating that not only are enterprise skills fundamental, but also teachable, and –importantly - measurable.
While working as a teacher in a deprived secondary school in East London with Teach First, Tom became increasingly aware of the frustrating gap between education and the world of work. Though there were some extra-curricular programs on entrepreneurship and organizations offering the occasional work experience outside of school, the school’s core curriculum was not sufficient to ensure a student’s future success. Tom knew that to disrupt enterprise education he would need to develop a framework which incentivized current stakeholders (schools, teachers, students, and employers) to recognize the full value of teaching enterprise skills and enable them to do so through a shared set of metrics.
Initially, Tom developed a curriculum around eight enterprise skills founded upon empathy, resilience, and confident communication, they include: creativity and problem solving, ambition and positivity, listening and understanding, teamwork and leadership. By defining enterprise skills in such a way Tom challenges the current perception that enterprise skills should be taught only to those going into business, rather than as a set of transferable skills for all. Enabling Enterprise works with entire schools, ensuring that every child, no matter what age, is taught enterprise skills. Through teacher training he empowers teachers to embed these skills and their underlying values across all subjects. Throughout the school year, students are taught enterprise in dedicated lessons and experience enterprise by setting up their own ventures as well as visiting real businesses during lesson time. This unique curriculum, tied-in with the development of students and teachers is now reaching 85,000 students this year alone across over 250 schools across the UK.
To prove the feasibility of enterprise education and to encourage the conventional education system to embrace and mainstream it, Tom then developed an evaluation system. Tom launched ‘Skills Builder’ as an online platform that allows teachers to assess and track the progress of their students’ enterprise skills. In addition, peer-to-peer teacher reviewing models as well as continued assessment throughout a child’s education assuring that the quality remains high and consistent. These measurement and reporting tools also help parents, as well as students themselves, to gain insights into how prepared they are for the world that awaits them after graduation.
Ultimately, Tom recognized that many organizations, including Ashoka Changemaker Schools and other Ashoka Fellows, teach enterprise skills, but there was no shared language nor metrics to set the foundation for a shared agenda. At the same time, Tom recognized that for the conventional education system to buy into changemaker education, consensus on the definition, value, and measurability was fundamental. To create systemic change, Tom opened the use of Skills Builder beyond the reach of Enabling Enterprise, building alliances with NGOs, teachers, and youth groups, and encouraging sector organizations to use the tool to measure and assess their success in teaching enterprise skills.
A recent report published by McKinsey, found that globally, 75 million young people are unemployed. In the UK, 40% of all unemployed people are now between the ages of 16 and 24. With 1 in 5 vacancies in the UK difficult to fill because of a lack of relevant skills in the labor market, there is a mismatch between what skills young people acquire and what employers need. Furthermore, young people themselves are not confident that their education is equipping them for life outside of school with 50% of university students not sure whether their postsecondary education has improved their chances of finding a job.
While lack of experience is often cited as a factor within youth unemployment, the Confederation of British Industry's latest report on employability confirmed that attitudes, aptitudes, and skills massively outweigh the importance of qualifications when making job offers. While skills are then recognized as imperative to entering the world of work, skills based education is often extracurricular or introduced on an ad hoc basis. According to research recently published about youth unemployment in the UK, employers value work experience, but the majority aren’t engaged with schools and colleges to feed into education and close the loop. Often this means that enterprise education opportunities depend on where students live because of significant regional variations in employer education engagement.
Despite enterprise education being on the agenda for over 30 years, one key aspect of the problem is the way in which it is taught. In order to truly have a transformational effect on students, both educationalists and employers need to stop seeing enterprise skills as a “nice-to-have” or an “add-on”, but as a core part of learning, alongside literacy and numeracy. Furthermore, enterprise curriculums are often targeted at the oldest students only, focusing on ‘employability’ and failing to recognize how they are fundamental to all learning. Another fundamental reason that enterprise education is not prioritized or taught as rigorously is the inability to track and measure enterprise skills, without shared metrics or even a shared definition, making it difficult for school and individual teachers to justify dedicated lesson time.
Tom’s mission is to transform the way we prepare our young people for life and for work, equipping them with the skills they need to thrive both in and outside of the classroom; as students, colleagues, and leaders. Tom’s ultimate aim is to re-position so called ‘soft-skills’ as fundamental for a successful and fulfilling career - introducing them more formally in the curriculum as well as recruitment practices. To reach this aim, Tom’s strategy works on three levels: introducing a skills-based enterprise curriculum; open sourcing a tool to measure the impact of enterprise education, and lastly uniting a coalition of partners behind shared metrics and shared language to bring about systemic change. Teaching, measuring, and promoting changemaker skills in the same way as we promote numeracy and literacy, Tom transforms the conventional education system in a nonconfrontational and practical way, making it easy for teachers, education evaluators and employers to follow suit.
The first part of Tom’s strategy lies in the scaling of the Enabling Enterprise curriculum to prove that enterprise skills are easily teachable. A key aspect was to narrow down and simplify the skills that employers wanted, design a system to best deliver these skills, and then deliver them using existing resources and institutions. Thus, the enterprise skills were developed as a set of eight skills, which combined what employers were looking for and which also had been shown to unlock learning. Enabling Enterprise works with the whole school, training teachers to deliver an enterprise curriculum during weekly lessons as well as integrating enterprise skills such as creativity, positivity, and teamwork throughout the wider curriculum. To ensure the sustainability of the program, Enabling Enterprise focuses on teacher training (six times per year), rather than delivering lessons themselves. Enabling Enterprise also supports schools in organizing real world learning projects such as yearly challenge days and monthly experiential visits to local businesses. To date, Enabling Enterprise has established an impressive network of over 120 leading business partners, including PwC, Virgin and UBS to bring the world of work into the classroom. In consistency with Enabling Enterprise’s philosophy, all visits are interactive and challenge students to apply their knowledge first hand. For example, during a visit at a bank, students would do roleplays as ‘traders’, investing ‘money’ on the stock market based on information they are given. Furthermore, businesses that host students engage their employees in the visits, allowing children to hear about their real-world experience. Enabling Enterprise works both with primary and secondary schools and in all types of schools across the country. The program is based on a three-year subscription model that is affordable for schools and easy to implement for its teachers.
The second part of Tom's strategy lies in impact measurement, empowering teachers to assess enterprise skills just as they assess numeracy and literacy. Tom has developed a tool called Skills Builder which enables teachers to evaluate and track the performance of their students. Based on their age group, students are assessed against a set of metrics including, for example, their ability to listen carefully, work with peers, overcome setbacks, or lead a project. Breaking down and clearly defining the 8 individual skills and tracking improvement over time, Skills Builder allows head teachers to see the performance of the individual child as well as the school as a whole. To hold teachers to account, Tom introduced teacher peer-to-peer review processes that assure continuity as students move through the curriculum. Most recently, and to enable exponential growth and impact across the UK, Tom launched ‘Teach Enterprise’, a program that allows secondary school teachers who aren’t at a school signed up to the Enabling Enterprise curriculum to receive some of the same tools and training.
The third strand of Tom’s work brings business and sector partners into the equation, closing the loop between recruitment and education. Enabling Enterprise were supported by PwC to learn from employers what skills these businesses look for in graduates and to critique and endorse the Skills Builder tool and its framework. Furthermore, Tom recently open sourced Skills Builder to allow other organizations teaching enterprise skills to adopt the framework. Tom recognized that many organizations are already in the business of championing enterprise skills, but without uniting around a shared language they would never bring about large scale and systemic change. Positioning Skills Builder as a neutral, open, and free tool for all stakeholders to use without insisting that Enabling Enterprise’s definition of enterprise skills remain static, Tom encourages others to put their weight behind a collective revolution of the education system.
This year, Enabling Enterprise is working with over 3,400 teachers, over 84,000 students and 120 employers. Recognized as an example of good practice by the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (the government office that oversees education standards), Tom is proving that enterprise and changemaking skills can be incorporated in mainstream education systems, no longer considered an extracurricular activity but an integral part of the curriculum. Their aim is to double their direct reach over the next two years while influencing the wider system to ensure that all young people leave school equipped with enterprise skills, experiences of work and the aspiration to succeed
Tom grew up in Buckinghamshire as the oldest of four boys. Entrepreneurial from a young age, Tom started his own business at 10 years old, when he set up a greeting cards company, selling cards in his neighborhood. Tom continued this trajectory throughout his childhood and adolescence washing cars and establishing a tutoring service in his neighborhood.
Tom faced the realities of the British education system for the first time at the age of 11 when he tested into a selective grammar school. Tom now recognizes that this was a pivotal moment, reflecting and benefiting from a system that supported his growth while simultaneously leaving so many others behind. He faced the same discomfort again when interviewing for a place at Oxford, realizing that many of his peers again would again not benefit from the education he received.
After completing his degree in Economics and Management at Merton College at Oxford, Tom was sitting on an offer from Oliver Wyman when he convinced them to defer the offer so he could join Teach First’s graduate employment scheme. Taking this time to again reflect on his privileged education, Tom dedicated the next two years to teaching in a deprived school in Hackney. At first, Tom struggled to engage a class with 32 students with limited resources and felt frustrated by an education system that suppressed his and his students’ entrepreneurialism. But soon he realized the freedom that the Teach First program gave him and started to be creative about his curriculum. What struck Tom the most was the huge gap that was growing between what he taught his students and what they actually needed to pursue a successful career.
One day, the students visited UBS and it became clear to Tom that boosting aspirations alone would not be enough. And so, he channeled all his energy into creating a curriculum, that would teach the skills he believed were most relevant for students entering a 21st century workforce. His students’ progress was impressive and Tom was awarded the Teach First Excellence Award as well as Entrepreneurship Teacher of the Year. Shortly after he became a non-executive board member of Teach First. Still only 23 years of age at this time, Tom questioned the idea of moving on from teaching to the city. At the same time, he felt indebted to Oliver Wyman who had held his position open and started his job as a management consultant.
Meanwhile, the curriculum he had designed his first year was already being used in over a dozen other schools. Knowing he wanted to continue this momentum Tom founded Enabling Enterprise at this time. During a 6-month period Tom laid the groundwork for his organization by night and continued his work as a consultant by day. Overworked and dissatisfied with his circumstances, Tom handed in his notice to focus fulltime on turning his idea to transform enterprise education into reality, having already designed the curriculum and now launched a full pilot, starting at the school in East London where he had first taught. The program he had designed at his kitchen table soon turned into what today is Enabling Enterprise, an organization with 30 employees working with over 85,000 students across the UK.