Thursday, 4 June 2015

Academies & Entrepreneurship in Edu... It's all About the Culture!

This post looks at why the issue of whether the government runs schools or whether academies or other models like startups (Alt School) or virtual courses (MOOCs) is not where the focus should be. The UK and Scottish governments are failing our young people, academies may be set to do the same... if the culture and roll out process isn't right.

Yesterday I noticed that the education bill and Nicky Morgan was trending on Twitter at the exact same time as comments about the fact that poor bright boys are underachieving.

The reason the governments education bill was topics was because people were commenting on the the latest big idea is turning "failing schools" into academies.
Not a fan of social media? OK how about the fact that traditional media ran with news that MPs were going ahead with their 10% wage increase, but on the same page there was news that teachers were threatening strike action due to being over worked and under paid.
If you want to throw #Team56 into the mix, you might want to compare the level of interest in Alistair Carmichael on social media with and concerns about levels of literacy in our schools.

Why are people trying to maintain the status quo, when our politicians have a horrendous record in education and are so bad at establishing the right culture with their staff?

I am a fan of some academies and charter schools, like Kipp, Alt School and Newlands Junior College, but others seem to be picking up where politicians left off... with mediocrity and toxic cultures.

Why is this? I would put an argument forward that it all comes down to culture, core values and the kind of people that are put in charge of finding solutions and the absence of people carrying out the appropriate due diligence.

How important is culture? We've already had the "Because everyone was doing it" excuse for MPs expenses and Banking, how long before this is the excuse that FIFA staff come out with regarding the corruption allegations?

Today I'm going to argue that it doesn't matter which organisation runs education, when you look into the schools mentioned above you'll noticed a common thread with the founders motivations, culture and the fact they didn't roll their ideas out until they knew they worked.

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Last Parliamentary term ECM and Healthy Schools were scrapped for the "Big Society"
What impact will rolling academies out too fast have?  
I'm going to explore this further by comparing the results from entrepreneurship education projects ran by UK Further Education, Sir Tom Hunter and educator/entrepreneur Doan Winkel, and how they deal with opportunities and failure.

I joined the inaugural #TrepTuesday Twitter chat yesterday (First Tue of each month at 9am CST/3pm GMT) which is organised by Doan Winkel and Michael Luchies who are building a community

Where Entrepreneurship that works meets entrepreneurship education

After the chat I explored Doan and Michael's website, Trepidemic and their blog posts.

Wow! Actual entrepreneurs teaching entrepreneurship! An obvious course of action you might think... but not always the case, and not always with the right kind of entrepreneurs or education leaders.

Failure is a powerful learning force
I read Doan's blog post Education comes through Opportunity, Failure, Hustle, and boy did it resonate!

Formal education didn't do much for me, a correspondence course with the Open University did more, but it's hard work and a bit of hustle has had the most value. This definitely includes an appreciation of the kind of ebb and flow of opportunities and failures that Doan discusses and the value of them... if you use them right! And once you get used to the constant state of flux and uncertainty.

With experience of taking ideas from conception to 50%+ market share and exploring the roll out process of technology, I have come to realise the importance of finding the right opportunities and learning from failures and trying again with different approaches.

I also agree with Doan's outlook on the way that educators tend to see opportunities and failures, I would go as far as to say this is one of the biggest challenges to education reform.

Since 2008 entrepreneurship has been a huge opportunity for post 16 educators and was a chance to get politicians, parents and students 100% behind teachers as they would be creating solutions during some extremely challenging times.

However, it might be argued that the ability to assess these opportunities require attributes that some political and education leaders do not possess... namely the ability to collaborate, start small, or be able to admit that a project are involved with has failed.

Educators Failing at Entrepreneurship 
The argument for more focus on entrepreneurship is a compelling on given that;
  • MIT alumni companies would be the 11th richest economy
  • The recession has made the job market more competitive
  • Government cuts been around for 5-6 years 
So the opportunity and the need is there and in 2012 Further Education did indeed explore this by establishing some enterprise initiatives. From what I can see these opportunities have failed to deliver, even if those involved don't want to admit it... if they were startups they would be out of business.

Six months before one of these initiative was formed I reached out to one of the Founders and told them about my research with income generating ideas for colleges and was based on principles that Google, Apple, Microsoft, Groupon, Amazon, Starbucks, Nike and Threadless T-shirts used.

While there were some positive comments about these ideas (Which had projections of £10.5 million), they were not adopted and I struggled to engage with these organisations. This might be understandable as they had far more experienced entrepreneurs as advisers. But maybe they listened to the wrong people?

When I went along to an open day for a college that signed up to an enterprise academy I could not believe what I was hearing! Nor could I comprehend the lack of research or the speed at which these ideas were rolled out.

While I support entrepreneurship education it would be difficult to argue that programs that cost £3.5 million and was only rolled out to 10% of the attainable market in 3 years was a success, but that's the kind of stance the founders decided to take;

Colleges under Fire over Gazelle's £3.5 million

On the day of the general election result in May the FE Minister, Nick Boles, warned that

"Colleges will need to look more widely at where they generate income from... they can't just look to the government"

So people should be beating a door down to discuss entrepreneurship with the colleges who have signed up to these projects to find out how to be more enterprising and self sustaining.

However, these opportunity was not explored properly, they were scaled to early and it might be argued that there was a lack of due diligence/collaboration.

“The number-one cause of start-up failure is premature scaling” Start-up Genome Project

Dave Feinleib the author of "Why Startups Fail" highlights not getting it right first time is absolutely normal, and admitting that things didn't work out instead of being defensive about the idea.

What if they had researched the issue more? What if they collaborated with more entrepreneurs who were already working with educators? What if they admitted the work failed and tried again? We can get a sense of what could have been through Sir Tom Hunters' commitment to entrepreneurship education.

Go Slow, or Go Home
It's interesting to compare the educators response to a failed attempt at entrepreneurship education with an entrepreneur. In June 2012 (6 months after the first FE Entrepreneurship project was formed) Sir Tom Hunter was debriefing politicians about his findings;

"In 1998 I invested in the Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship at Strathclyde Uni and subsequently put more capital into enterprise education to try and help change the culture. In 2003 Scotland had 36 new business registrations per 10,000 adults. It's still the same.
The irony is it was the Hunter Centre who could tell me that I had failed. We are collectively complicit in doing what we have always done or, at minimum, doing new things that haven't moved the dial one iota or maybe just a wee bit"

Sir Tom has obviously learned from this as he is supporting the successful Entrprenurial Spark incubators, which are now in the process of being scaling after 3 incubators has supported business and helped create 1,000 jobs in it's first 2 years.

Sir Tom worked with one university for 12 years, was brave enough to be able to say "This hasn't worked," learned from it and tried again. Success with one incubator in Scotland was rolled out to 3 sites and is now being rolled out across a number of other cities across the UK.

With every idea that I have been involved with I have advocated starting off small and scaling once "product market fit" has been achieved.

Whether education model, EdTech supplier or wholesale government reforms like "All failing schools will be academies," they are rolled out too early and without the proper due diligence. This article highlights this every well "EdTech in India: Go Slow or Go Home"

But politicians don't do slow and, unfortunately, educators appear to follow their model. David Cameron threw out Every Child Matters, National Indicators and Healthy Schools for his "Big Society"

At what point is the dissenters voice a welcome one with failed projects like this? At the outset when there's a new initiative that everyone is excited about? Half way through when resources are committed and to stop would be at considerable costs (Including people's precious egos?), or at the end when it becomes a case of "I told you so?" (More on this in my next post). Regardless of what people think of a dissenting voice, the fact remains;

"He who takes advice about his savings from one who is inexperienced in such matters, shall pay with his savings for proving the falsity of their opinions" The Richest Man in Babylon

How can any educator who hasn't started a business successfully roll out an enterprise program? How can any entrepreneur who is not in the class observing what's going on know if "Their way" is any good for others to follow? What if... These FE projects had sought the advice of Sir Tom Hunter, Bill Aulet or their counterparts in US Community Colleges as well as whatever due diligence they carried out?

It is for these reasons that it was a breath of fresh air when I found out about Doan Winkel's work and reading his recent post. Not only does he advocate the value of making mistakes, but he teaches entrepreneurship and is an actual entrepreneur.

The Value of Edupreneurs
"Every venture, at it's inception, is imbued with a core purpose and set of values that emanate from the founder, shape the organisation's culture, and largely define its future, for good or ill"

"[Paal Smith-Meyer] found that while the stories differed wildly in the details, there was a common thread. Whether it was Nike cofounder Phil Knight selling running shoes from the trunk of his car, a young michael Dell marketing PCs made from stock parts out of his university dorm or Lego's Ole Kirk experimenting with his injection molding machine, these were entreprenurs who relied as much on passion as on acument to build industy defining businesses." Brick by Brick How Lego rewrote the rules of innovation.

It is my belief that people will find in the quotes why we find some academies and EdTech startups work... The culture and values shape the school and passion wills people through the never ending cycle of opportunities, setbacks and failures so they hang on until you find it all uncovers the opportunity that is product market fit.

This is also the reason that I feel that Edupreneurs have a unique perspective. Educators who start up their own business must be passionate about their idea! Whether they put in the extra time on top of teaching and/or to leave the classroom to start a business, both take a lot of enthusiasm for the idea.

Equally, entrepreneurs who teach entrepreneurship, clearly have a passion for teaching students and sharing their experiences... as opposed to getting caught up with any celebrity status that TV programs and book deals bring, so educators add look to add these celebs names to some poorly thought out enterprise academy that has limited value.

UK politicians have fundamentally failed at education, schools like Kipp and Alt School show what can be achieved. However, there is also plenty evidence of UK academies achieving no better results than our governments.

Let's learn from those who are doing things well, roll out slowly, get the right people establishing the right values and have passion for teaching and their students. Get these things right and it doesn't matter if it's government run, an academy or a startup because you'll have some inspiring educators teaching engaged students and outstanding schools.

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