'You can do it': Peter Jones reveals how he'll turn teens into entrepreneurs

He's terrified inventors and entrepreneurs on 'Dragons' Den'. Now, Peter Jones is turning his talents to an academy of enterprise – and even former thieves are welcome, he tells Liz Lightfoot

Peter Jones is looking pretty relaxed for man who is running a multimillion-pound global business. There's none of that lugubrious demeanour that is evident on the BBC's Dragons' Den. Today, he's boyish and excited because the Learning and Skills Council has given him the go-ahead to open his own state school. It will be Britain's first "Tycoon's Academy", as he can't resist calling it, though the official name is the National Enterprise Academy – one of four new skills academies approved for state funding this month.

His is the most high-profile of the four and it is being fast-tracked, taking its first students in January for a pilot of the new curriculum, ready for the first intake in September 2009. His vision of a school to teach entrepreneurship – to help change what he calls the country's "Can I?" attitude to "I Can!" – was formed while writing his book Tycoon four years ago. Gordon Brown got to hear about it and ministers were soon knocking on his door to find out more.

After a series of failed attempts to get industry involved in running schools, starting with Education Action Zones in 1998, the Government was keen to have a Dragon on board. Negotiating the red tape of the education system has been a challenge, he admits, but the fact that the school is to receive money from the taxpayer doesn't mean he is deferring to officials.

First, he doesn't have to teach the Government's flagship diploma, the qualification that is supposed to herald a new approach to vocational education. "We are writing our own qualification," he says. "We are literally starting from scratch. What I didn't want to do was have a half-skewed qualification that kept other people happy. Let's put that more politely: I want to have a qualification that, in essence, I create and that I believe has more of a chance of success in the future."

Edexcel, one of the four exam bodies in England, is helping to devise the new award and Jones wants it to have the same currency with business as the board's BTEC, a popular vocational qualification threatened by the Diploma. Second, his academy won't be staffed by qualified teachers. "Tutoring will be delivered by previously successful entrepreneurs," he says. "It won't be teachers and that is the tough part about it. We're having to spend a lot of time teaching our entrepreneurs how to teach and, I tell you, it isn't easy and that's why we should have an immense amount of respect for our teachers."

Setting up a school on top of running his business – Phones International, turnover: £180m – is gruelling, he admits, and he rarely has the time to play tennis, his favourite sport, even though one of his offices is opposite the Lawn Tennis Association. Asked whether it is possible to teach entrepreneurship, Jones replies he is sure that you can.

"If I didn't think you could teach it, I wouldn't have spent millions setting up my own enterprise academy. I would just have carried on with my day job."

But don't confuse entrepreneurship with business studies, he says, uncurling his legs to give a flash of the trade-mark stripey socks. "It's not the mechanics of setting up and running a business, but a state of mind, a confidence that you have the knowledge and the right mindset to be successful. A lot of people think you are born with it. I couldn't disagree more. The skills of how to be more enterprising are live and real and can be taught."

He draws heavily on his own experience. He disliked Haileybury Junior School in Windsor, his private prep school, and bunked off at every opportunity to sit in the big chair in his father's office and dream of running a company. But he describes his next school, Windsor Boys', as the happiest time of his life. "When I was 12 I worked with someone – it was actually an English teacher at my school, John Woodward. He was the only teacher in the school to have a top-of-the-range Porsche and all the trappings of success, so it was very interesting for me to find out how he did it. He was probably the wealthiest English teacher in the community."

The teacher ran a successful tennis academy and Jones became his assistant in the holidays. "I saw first-hand how easy it is to create and run a business," he says. Jones then set up his own tennis academy and a computer company while still at school. "By the time I was 19, I had an Audi 80 sport and had bought my first house."

It's all very simple, he says. Confidence is key and students will become confident once they learn how to set up and run a business from people who have done it.

The new curriculum will give them opportunities to seek out and market products in a virtual business environment. Work experience will be real tasks with big companies such as Sainsbury's, Barclays and the Co-op, rather than making the tea and coffee, which was the sum total of his own work experience while at school.

Once the academy is up and running students will take classes at the Amersham and Wycombe College in Buckinghamshire, and masterclasses, challenges and physical activities at Aylesbury College. There will be another branch of the academy in Manchester and nine satellite locations.

After the curriculum and qualification have been finalised, the plan is to provide "learner opportunities" for 11,000 people, including a swathe of adult returners in further education colleges and schools. A quarter of the 16- to 19-year-olds will be from disadvantaged homes but it is as yet unknown how they will be identified.

Jones passed the 11-plus and three A-levels but is keen to recruit budding entrepreneurs with the right attributes who did not excel at school. GCSE passes in maths and English are not compulsory and even a criminal record won't rule them out. He has met people who have been breaking into cars to steal and sell stereos. "It's not to be condoned but it shows enterprise that could be redirected to serving the community," he says.

I put it to him that, historically, English education has not looked particularly kindly on business, seeing it as being about greed or against the principles of the 1944 Education Act to promote the "spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development" of pupils.

He couldn't disagree more. "I really don't want to encourage young people to think that life is about money only. Life is about being able to give yourself choice. If you want to make your own decisions about where you work, what you do, what you earn and what you buy, then being able to make money is an important factor."

And with that he's off to the television studio for the second time this morning, keeping up the high profile that he believes makes it easier for him to get what he wants. This time, a school in his image.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing