Enterprise can have three main meanings in the context of The New Zealand Curriculum. In a literal sense enterprise can be ‘learning about business’ where enterprise relates to business studies, economics and accountancy. Enterprise can also be about developing and applying skills to operate businesses as observed in those business courses that develop the entrepreneurial talents of students.

The third and increasingly important meaning is enterprise as authentic learning. This involves students solving real problems for an actual audience or client. Students work with a business or community partner to create a new solution, product or service. Authentic learning activities are emphasised in the effective teaching dimensions of The New Zealand Curriculum. Enterprise is discussed as part of the future focus principle. It is evident in The New Zealand Curriculum in the vision, values, key competencies as well as the specific learning objectives of individual curriculum areas.

This ERO report has been written to help schools develop enterprise learning. Seven case studies present the challenges and benefits of enterprise as authentic teaching and learning. Each of these studies show what students have achieved in different enterprise activities. They discuss what leaders and teachers have done; both those who have been supportive of an enterprise learning approach and those who have been hesitant in adapting the way they teach.

These case studies show that leadership is central to developing enterprise learning in secondary schools. Boards and principals should ensure that there are resources and support systems in place for what can be significant changes to teaching and learning. Leaders need to value enterprise and reflect this in the school’s curriculum planning, assessment, classroom resources and professional development.

Schools leaders are responsible for ensuring that there are effective teacher-leaders for enterprise. Teacher-leaders can be a source of expertise for other staff and their own teaching should demonstrate how enterprise can work for students, teachers and business and community partners.

This report emphasises the potential for a broad range of learners to be engaged by enterprise. The examples in this report show how enterprise activities can build high levels of engagement for high performing, average or underachieving students. Enterprise learning can also have significant benefits for businesses and the community. Students in the case study schools have completed a wide range of enterprise projects including designing new food products for a New Zealand business; organising corporate dinners; planning and teaching community computer courses; and preparing scientific maps for the Department of Conservation.

In some of the enterprise projects senior students have received National Certificates of Educational Achievement (NCEA) credits for their work. Some junior students have been given information about the outcomes they have achieved through their work on enterprise activities. However the assessment of enterprise learning was generally a challenge and teachers have struggled to identify what students have learnt and, in the case of senior students, link student learning to the qualifications framework.

These issues suggest that some teachers have difficulties when assessing students in real learning situations. While most secondary teachers can easily assess the content knowledge of students through different forms of written testing, they may be less well equipped to identify student learning outcomes in authentic contexts. In this regard, the ongoing alignment of the achievement standards with The New Zealand Curriculum will provide schools with more opportunities to assess student performance in real contexts.

Other challenges besides assessment are connected with the implementation of enterprise learning activities. For example, timetabling is seen as a significant obstacle to schools having a flexible approach to learning. Schools embracing greater connections with enterprise partners have to ensure that students have suitable times to visit workplaces, sites of interest and community mentors. Resources can be a challenge too, as students require access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) to connect with others and prepare letters, websites, spreadsheets and, in the case of one school, an international recipe book.

Changing teachers’ practice through professional learning and development (PLD) is a key driver for change, especially considering the shift in teaching practice that has to occur for some teachers adopting an enterprise approach. For these teachers enterprise learning signals a shift away from a content and teacher-centred view of teaching and learning, towards one that works with business and community partners to solve real problems, create relevant learning activities and engages the strengths, interests and passions of students.