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Vocational education is vital for Britain's business future

It is disappointing that business studies is becoming less popular, says Dragon Peter Jones, because Britain needs entrepreneurs and inspired employees.

GCSE results highlighted the perennial debate about attitudes to traditional and more vocational subjects. While it is fantastic that the pass rates improved for the 23rd year in a row, with over two-thirds achieving five A*-Cs, I am disappointed that languages and business studies seem to be increasingly unpopular.

In the absence of more vocational GCSEs, it is a shame that there were 7% fewer entries for business studies this year and that almost three-quarters of students didn't take French. Yet both teach skills that are vital for UK industry.

For those with an interest in traditional subject such as English and science, the pathway to success is clearly laid out. However, for those with a flair for business and a keen interest in enterprise, it is not so clear, and their experience of education so far has not always been a convincing one.

While it's true that traditional business GCSEs equip students with a wealth of valuable theoretical business knowledge, the English education system has not looked particularly kindly on business studies, in particular the topic of enterprise. Too often, there has been confusion between entrepreneurship and business studies. Enterprise is 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 real and can be taught.

I believe we are still missing key ingredients that are discouraging young people from following their entrepreneurial dream, particularly in relation to academic versus vocational GSCEs. Not every student has a flair for textbook education, and generally many young people who have a flair for business and enterprise perhaps do not excel through traditional education methods.

But should we assume that these individuals who did not receive good results will not make successful entrepreneurs? We need more options available for students who are passionate about business and enterprise, but perhaps do not have the desire or academic talent to follow the traditional and more accepted route of taking A-level business studies. While there is definitely a place and need for business courses at GCSE and A-level, there is still a gap that needs to be filled.

My career path was not a traditional one. Although I obtained O-levels and A-levels in economics, biology and geography, I decided not to go to university. Two years ago, however, I was challenged to sit the A-level business studies exam and was awarded an A. The fact that I took, and successfully passed, the exam later in my career demonstrates that experience and the qualifications gained from hands-on, vocational learning are equally as beneficial as those offered by academic routes.

My primary point here is not to discard traditional business studies courses – they have their rightful place within the education system. However, as we look towards the future, we have the opportunity to take a serious look at how to unlock the entrepreneurial talent within this country through better business education.

My experience of education is that we tend to put everyone, all the learners, in one room and expect them to learn in the same way and at the same pace, but not everyone learns like that. What we need to unlock entrepreneurial talent in this country is to give young people high-quality, practical experience that fosters their skills – and this should begin early in their education journey, with vocational GCSEs being a prime opportunity.

To date, there have been a series of unsuccessful attempts to get industry involved in running schools, starting with Education Action Zones in 1998. Education providers and businesses must learn to collaborate much more effectively. The UK needs entrepreneurs to stimulate the economy, and businesses need inspired employees to help their companies recover quickly from the recession. In order to achieve this, we must foster greater links between the business and the education world through vocational education.

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