The real junior apprentices: Pupils are encouraged to run their own businesses at Lincoln Castle Academy

But will cuts spell the end of schemes like this?
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The Independent Online

The eight directors of Lincoln's latest media start-up are finishing off their new creation. While outside the tiny project office there is the familiar finger-jabbing image of Lord Sugar adorning the notice board, there is no hint of Apprentice-style squabbling going on – just an infectious sense of collective pride and excitement as they prepare for Launch Day.

What they have created is Local Lincoln, a 16-page colour business directory conceived and produced with extraordinary levels of professionalism by a group of sixth-formers at Lincoln Castle Academy School, as part of an enterprise enrichment project designed to give them an insight into themselves and the world of work that awaits them. Since knuckling down to the project in January they have cold-called local businesses, met rigorous production schedules and pitched their idea in a presentation to education leaders.

They even met MPs and ministers at the House of Commons to explain what they have been doing. By the time the bills are paid they expect to turn a modest £500 profit from a £2,000 outlay and bequeath for successive years of students to whom they will act as future mentors a functioning business model that will generate cash for good causes.

"What we have learnt is teamwork and communication skills," they agree. "If we hadn't it would have been a shambles." For the next edition they will have double the pagination and a website is already planned. Lord Sugar would be impressed.

The spirit of enterprise is deeply embedded in Lincoln Castle, a true comprehensive in a socially-mixed part of Lincoln. Since applying for specialist status as a business and enterprise school seven years ago, it has become a beacon of excellence in the twin subject areas.

Earlier this year the Academy, previously called Yarborough School, won the first Education and Employer Partnership award, presented on behalf of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust for its pioneering link with local family-owned printing firm Ruddocks. Last month it was rated "outstanding" by Ofsted for its economics and business curriculum. But the ending of specialist schools funding – currently worth £100,000-a-year – and the announcement that business studies is not to be included as one of the official humanities in the Coalition's new English baccalaureate (EBacc) has left those who have worked hard to make the school a national success story frustrated. Enterprise co-ordinator Katie Vause is worried that what is no longer funded and assessed will mean schools no longer have the incentive to keep up their current work and that the losers will be the young people currently getting so much out of it.

"They get engagement, they get motivation and they develop literacy and numeracy skills without even knowing it. They also get out of the classroom and work in teams.

"I see students grow in confidence and become the people they want to be," she says.

The sidelining of business studies as a core academic subject for the EBacc also fails to chime with the entrepreneurial spirit of these difficult times, especially as decreasing numbers of young people in education have access to part-time work – somewhere previous generations have traditionally learnt what it is to provide an honest day's toil for an honest day's pay.

"David Cameron has spoken about enterprise growing us out of the current economic situation and the most important thing is to equip young people with these skills at school, so that when they leave they are able to set up their own businesses or to be an effective employee.

"These skills are transferable – you can be entrepreneurial in the way you live your life and the way you work," she says, adding: "We have worked hard at this and we are not willing to let it all go without a fight."

It certainly appears to catch the imaginations of both students and schools. Pupils at Lincoln Castle can study for a BTEC in enterprise as well as an A-level in business studies, while every other Wednesday afternoon the timetable is turned over so all learners can try their hand at a spot of entrepreneurship.

There are certainly some fun-sounding projects on offer. Perhaps the most important is a small business run by the Student Enterprise Council, which sells bottled water to help a development project in Malawi. Drinks are bought at a local supermarket and sold for a profit to fellow students and at school open days. Trade is thriving. Others compete for the £25 that comes with being the Lincoln Castle Apprentice, pitching ideas from hot-dog stands to car-washing businesses.

But not everything works out smoothly, says Ms Vause, who has a degree in business management and whose father ran his own business.

"They have control and they see the value of what they do. But often the most valuable programmes are the ones that fail because they learn so much, she says.

One such "catastrophe" was a planned business selling hanging baskets. A Supermarket Sweep-style sourcing trip to B&Q saw the £100 budget blown in minutes, while poor decision-making resulted in the wrong flowers being selected.

"As a teacher you have to stand back and let them make mistakes because in business you won't have someone standing on your shoulder telling you that you have spent too much," she says.

And no idea is too crazy – as long as the business case can be made for it. "We had a student who came to me and said he would like to sell manure on eBay. He lived on a farm and we looked into it and now it is an ongoing business," adds Ms Vause.

Jason Southern, 16, was Lincoln Castle's Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 and was a veteran of the failed hanging basket project.

He still remembers the mess and the stress. "I'll never work with soil again," he vows.

But like the others he says he is not attracted to enterprise for the money or through TV celebrity.

"The people I admire most are the ones who start a business from scratch and it works out really well. It is the experiences you have that give you the thrills," he says. Headteacher Rob Boothroyd inherited the specialist application when he took over seven years ago, but is a firm believer in the value of the work and what has been achieved. "We have gone from strength to strength and we have a talented and outstanding team," he says. There are more than 270 schools currently with the specialism, making it one of the most popular. The enthusiasm is reflected in the Ofsted inspection reports, which regularly heap praise upon the quality of teaching and learning in the subject areas, supporters say.

Meanwhile, there is growing interest in the English experience from Continental Europe. "We shouldn't throw it away," he says. "The role of business and enterprise is crucial so why not have it as an EBacc subject?"

But what of the future?

"I'm not optimistic at this moment in time. If they came to experience for themselves they could see the difference and the skills that we are developing here that make our students creative, aspirational and employable.

"There is no reason if they had an open mind why they could not include it in the humanities section of the baccalaureate," he says.

Learning the business

Enterprise culture has become deeply ingrained across the Lincoln Castle Academy curriculum since it became a specialist school in 2003.

Under the guidance of enterprise co-ordinator Katie Vause (right) it aims to equip children to respond to the demands of business by solving problems, working in teams and adapting quickly to change. In the last eight years it has become a regional and national leader in the field, pioneering new ways of developing enterprise education and working with local businesses. This year it was awarded the first national Education and Employer Partnership Award by the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust for its long-standing venture with local printing firm Ruddocks.

Last year students designed a marketing campaign for local football club Lincoln City and worked together to produce advertisements for community radio stations.

As part of an ongoing social enterprise venture, pupils sell bottles of water to fund projects aimed at improving the quality of life for people living in less developed countries. Other recent achievements include four Year 9 students being crowned "Co-op Challenge" Champions 2008, as well as a group of Year 10 students winning a prestigious award at a regional LionHeart Challenge final – a national enterprise award – held in Liverpool, where more than 70 schools were competing.

Last term 150 students took part in the Tenner Tycoon campaign, backed by Dragon's Den star Peter Jones, in which 40,000 budding entrepreneurs across the UK are given £10 start-up capital to begin a business with the aim of returning a profit and making a social difference.