The Big Business Challenge at Wychall Primary

In late 2011 we met with Therese Allen, Head Teacher of Wychall Primary School in Birmingham to explore how we could stretch students and help prepare them for their transition to secondary school. It was immediately clear that Wychall and Enabling Enterprise shared a lot of common ground with real-life learning and collaboration being central to our shared approach. Following an enlightening tour of Wychall, together we etched out the foundations of a brand new, ambitious programme which would guide Year 6 students to start and run a real in-school business and culminate in students presenting their business plans at Bromford Group’s head offices in Wolverhampton. Stretching over 20 sessions, the programme would start gently but quickly pick up pace as the 10-11 year old students applied real business theory and techniques to their own ventures. Students would be generating and scrutinising ideas, carrying out market research, designing, making and pricing their products and doing face-to-face sales in a trade day. All this would be put together in a coherent business plan presented to professionals in a Dragon’s Den-like competition.

Launch Day – Invites ‘R’ Us

To help immerse students in the experience and fully introduce the concept, the programme would launch with one of our ‘Edventuring’ Challenge Days. Students would experience all the elements of their big business challenge in one fun day designed to test their collaboration, decision making, planning and presentation skills. With Wychall’s Sports Day coming up, the challenge for 8 teams of students was to set up companies producing invitations to the day. These would be bought by the school and depending on their quality could fetch between 5 and 15 Enabling Enterprise Dollars. Firstly however, the issue of budgeting had to be dealt with. Staring with the same initial budget of $60, teams had to decide whether to invest in quality card, cheap paper, glue, foil, felt tips or scissors.

With decisions made and the classrooms buzzing with production, the sales started pouring in. Simply handing over cards was not an option and each team had to negotiate the price, clearly articulating why the card was worth it. Teams also needed to keep close records of sales to use in their presentations later on.

To complete for the winning spot, teams had to put together a presentation covering how they worked together, their main successes and challenges and clearly talk through their finances. Already showing great promise, Wychall students made strong pitches and more importantly showed their capacity to support each other and accept winning or loosing gracefully. While the concept of enterprise was now much more tangible and students understanding of how enterprise skills look and feel was improving, the idea of doing all this for real and then presenting to adults in a real board room was still miles away.

The Journey

With their SATs examinations and the Launch Day behind them, it was time for the students to get their teeth into the real business challenge. Starting with a closer look at what made an enterprising person, students would design logos and hold formal board meetings to generate and analyse ideas before embarking on market research, finance and production. The aim was not just to guide students through the different stages but build their understanding of why each stage was needed and crucially to home in on the skills needed to do this effectively. Ranging from recognising numeracy as a foundation of enterprise to the importance of having different roles within the team and knowing people’s strengths, the impact of the programme was starting to show.

Class teachers Mrs Jones and Mrs Scott observed several key changes as teams drew close to the trade day. Firstly the more academically able students who teams initially chose to be their leaders were no longer leading their teams. This role had shifted to students who had not thought about themselves as leaders before but showed a natural ability to motivate others and relished getting stuck in. Students were also showing much deeper understanding of teamwork and no longer thought of creativity purely in the artistic sense.

When it came to the question of funding for materials to start production, Therese asked each team to come see her regarding a seed-loan. The 4% interest loan would only be given following close questioning on the profitability and suitability of each product. While for some teams this meant going back to the drawing board this experience was one shared by start-ups all over the world and in the end all teams secured their loans. Now they had to worry about paying them back, getting a better understanding of how money works and where it comes from in the process.

In the full swing of production a whole range of customised products began to fill the classrooms: bracelets, hats, pencils and jewellery. It was now time to enter the trade fair and see if the products and price were right after all.
Sales started well but as the trade fair was nearing closing time teams needed to think on their feet and make key strategic decisions if all stock was to go. With discounts popping up all over the fair this was a great time to get a bargain! As students began to total up their income and pack away their stands it was time to turn their minds to the business plan presentations and how they were going to tell their incredible story.

Pitching at Bromford Group

It was clear from the moment students arrived at Bromford Group offices in Wolverhampton that they had done their homework. Each team was armed with print outs of their PowerPoint presentations, product samples and advertising samples. Before their big moment, teams would spend a few hours working with Bromford volunteers to build their confidence in this new environment and polish off their presentations. The focus was on style – how would they keep the audience engaged and make their team stand out? Run-through after run-through, presentations we’re getting better and better, with Bromford volunteers blown away by the depth of the content and students’ drive to continually improve. Following and lovely lunch which in itself carried another life-lesson; what exactly was ‘poultry’…, it was time to settle down, dim the lights and take centre stage.

The judges were impressed with the high quality and strong style of the presentations, but even more impressive was the students’ grasp of their finances and their ‘budget control’. Every team had broken even and paid back their loans with some making profits of up to £35. Following close questioning, the judges left to debate the winners.

For Mrs Jones and Mrs Scott, once pitch and one student stood out above the rest. Having only been had only been at Wychall a few months and “barely saying a word”, even in the schools Nurture Unit, seeing him stand up in a Bromford board room and give a pitch-perfect presentation, being the only one from his team to take centre stage, with no notes was just fantastic.

Following some intense deliberations the judges emerged to congratulate all teams on their amazing achievement. It was to be The Ravens who took the winning spot in recognition of their passionate account of how their team felt like a family. The impact of the visit on students’ self-esteem and confidence was amazing. In typical Wychall style, the winners accepted this gracefully and following an emotional talk from a very proud Mrs Scott, students returned back to school to reflect on how enterprise is useful in school and beyond.

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