Enterprise is an approach to learning that involves students in solving real problems for an actual audience or client. It asks students to be innovative in working with a business or community partner to create something new.

The seven case studies discussed in this report demonstrate how an authentic learning approach can work as well as the challenge schools may face in implementing enterprise learning.

Leadership is vital to enterprise learning

To build enterprise learning activity in a school requires leadership both from the board and principal as well as enterprise champions in the school. The board and principal have a key role in encouraging the process. They ensure that the structures and resources are organised in a way that provide professional learning, time and support for teachers to establish relationships with business and community partners.

Teacher-leaders in the school help set an example for other staff; they provide departmental leadership; mentor others; develop business relationships and help assist teachers and students to understand the nature of enterprise learning and its links to The New Zealand Curriculum, especially effective pedagogy, achievement objectives and the key competencies.

Enterprise approaches represent a change in pedagogical approach for many secondary teachers

Enterprise learning activities reflect the features of effective pedagogy as described in The New Zealand Curriculum. Enterprise learning typically requires teachers and students to change from their traditional classroom roles to a situation where students take more responsibility for learning. Unlike many traditional secondary school units, where teachers deliver a pre-defined body of knowledge, teachers may not know what the final outcome may be in an enterprise activity.

It requires practice to develop the new classroom protocols and routines. The support of other teachers is necessary especially from those who have previous experience. Teachers also need professional development to give them the skills and confidence to manage a class taking part in an enterprise activity. PLD gives teachers:

  • an understanding of enterprising approaches as examples of effective pedagogy (as in The New Zealand Curriculum)
  • specific ideas about how to include enterprise in particular curriculum areas.

Enterprise supports the engagement of a broad range of learners

Enterprise learning can engage the diverse range of students in secondary schools. Highly academic students can benefit from a project with a business partner that challenges their ability to cooperate, solve problems and present ideas to a variety of audiences. Similarly, less able students, including those who are disengaged, can be motivated by learning that has a clear purpose.

As the example from School F demonstrates, enterprise learning includes learning connected to te ao Māori. Māori businesses and community partners can provide authentic contexts for students. Students who have strengths in te reo me tikanga Māori can also lead projects that aim to build the knowledge and understanding of the school community in these areas.

While students are often receptive to learning through authentic tasks, it is important to note that some may need time and support to adapt to an environment where they have more control of their learning and where they have fewer clear‑cut answers. Just as some teachers and community members have traditional expectations of what ‘real learning’ is, so do some students. These views may need to be considered when teachers introduce enterprise learning to a class for the first time.

Enterprise may need more or different resources

Evidence from this report suggests that different sorts of classroom resources are required for enterprise learning. For example, textbooks are less important and ICT are more important.

Some of these issues may be linked to how resources are structured in a school. For example, are computers and telephones in classrooms or are they only in specialist areas? Are there processes in place to make sure students work off-site safely? How do students travel to visit business community partners? Are there meeting rooms for students to catch up with business and community partners? Is the library set up to help students find some of the specialist information they may need for an enterprise project? Schools need to consider these questions when they review their resources for enterprise learning.

Building enterprise into the timetable and the classroom

Secondary school timetables should not be barriers to students working with business and community partners. Many schools avoid timetable clashes for enterprise projects by scheduling times outside of the normal schedule to give students sustained chunks of time to work on authentic learning projects. For example, some schools have used ‘project weeks’ for junior students when senior students are on examination leave. There can be increased flexibility of staffing at this time and more scope for teachers to work together on integrated curriculum projects.

In another example, School C scheduled opportunities for enterprising learning activities into each day. This school also expected that students would be taking part in enterprising learning during their mainstream subject slots. This example implies that timetable flexibility is less of an issue when enterprise is seen as a ‘normal’ aspect of the curriculum and one that should occur, to some extent at least, in every classroom through the year.

Enterprising activities can be incorporated into many senior courses, not as an add-on, unrelated to the achievement standard, but as a way of applying knowledge that has been taught.

Enterprise often involves links with business and community partners

Many enterprise activities are built on working with business or community partners to develop a solution, product or activity in response to an identified need or problem. Some teachers can be reluctant about the role of business in enterprise learning activities. Business can be seen by them as a ‘vocational’ approach to education or too commercial an approach when students are at school to develop academic skills. As part of the curriculum students are expected to learn about the world of work and learning activities with businesses are a natural way for students to do this. Moreover, links with community partners and problem solving of social issues are equally valid enterprising activities that reflect the principles of The New Zealand Curriculum. Enterprise activity can be the most challenging, effective and rewarding learning in a student’s time at secondary school.

Assessment is a significant challenge

Some schools that have developed authentic learning projects as part of their enterprise approach have not had assessment processes that suitably captured students’ learning. Often the significant gains made by students have been reported in terms of the key competencies of The New Zealand Curriculum or the analogous enterprising attributes. In many cases this has been carried out as self or peer assessment.

The most effective assessment included the reporting of specific learning outcomes achieved by students as part of their enterprise activity. This was possible when teachers understood how to describe students’ achievement while they have been learning – and not in a separate ‘test’ after the fact. From this perspective, some of the difficulties in developing assessment for enterprise learning can be linked to how teachers assess in authentic teaching contexts. Unlike the assessment of content knowledge, where teachers can use a variety of testing to understand what students know, the assessment of enterprise learning needs teachers to capture evidence of student success ‘on the job’ and in light of the overall outcomes of an enterprise project. This represents a significant shift in assessment practice for some teachers.

The alignment of the achievement standards in senior secondary learning is likely to support the assessment of enterprise activities. Because the new achievement standards reflect more of the intent of The New Zealand Curriculum and the process, rather than just content, of learning, there will be more opportunities for teachers in senior courses to use enterprising approaches to teach specific standards. Ideally, as teachers become better at identifying learning outcomes in senior courses then this practice can inform enterprise learning assessment in Years 9 and 10.