Samantha Price, Headmistress of Benenden School, discusses the importance of developing entrepreneurship in our schools

Exam results are, of course, an important barometer of any school’s success – but if a student leaves their school only with a set of strong results, that school hasn’t done its job properly. Modern employers look for employees who are highly skilled, but they also want new recruits who are confident, full of ideas and who will think critically. This means that young people need to arrive in the workplace with the necessary experience to solve problems, and they also need to be prepared to take risks.

This is why we place such importance on teaching our students entrepreneurial skills. Earlier this year we teamed up with a renowned entrepreneur, and Benenden alumnus, to launch a pioneering new enterprise award. Amber Atherton, who founded an online jewellery business while at Benenden in the Noughties, relocated to Silicon Valley with her next software venture. Now she is hoping to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs in the UK.

Amber Atherton Copy
Amber Atherton, a Benenden alumnus, is hoping to inspire the next generation of female entrepreneurs with her award

She is aiming to roll out her award to schools across the country and started with Benenden in the Summer Term. The entries that were submitted for the inaugural Atherton Award were incredibly impressive and wide ranging in scope. Those vying for the prize of £500 and one-to-one mentoring included a 15-year-old student who founded her own company selling hand-block printed wrap skirts and a 13-year-old girl who started her own micro-bakery. The eventual winner was a Sixth Former who was honoured for her work launching a non-profit organisation called STEM in Africa (SIA) which serves disadvantaged communities in Nigeria.

Such activity – and indeed Amber herself – are great examples of the entrepreneurial spirit we are delighted to have here at Benenden. Indeed, we take entrepreneurship so seriously that it is embedded into the curriculum of the school. Our highly regarded Professional Skills Programme teaches our Sixth Form students the skills they will need to thrive beyond the school gates. It includes a whole range of essential skills for professional life and careers, from coding to delivering a pitch to reading complex financial information. Along the way, students also learn life essentials, such as negotiating a tenancy agreement, setting up and managing household bills and tackling cookery, DIY and car maintenance.

“The entries for the inaugural Atherton Award were incredibly impressive and included a 13-year-old girl who started her own micro-bakery”

A crucial part of this Professional Skills Programme is the Enterprise Challenge, in which all our Sixth Formers plan, launch and run a business. This project gives our students vital experience of developing marketing plans, managing costs, dealing with supply chains, delivering customer service and working in teams. In other words, it ensures they are ready for the modern workplace and builds those skills that will help them to thrive in any entrepreneurial setting. We believe that this professional development of young people should be the main aim of a modern school.

Benenden School

Further reading: Alternative pathways at 18+