Ready Unlimited - Enterpreneurial education

This case study was prepared by Catherine Brentnall from Ready Unlimited, edited by Joseph Tixier from the OECD LEED Programme 


Ready Unlimited is a social enterprise that provides Continuing Professional Development (CPD) to support teachers to strengthen and embed enterprising and entrepreneurial teaching, learning and culture in education. It combines training, coaching and consultancy into bespoke development programmes for schools, or cross phase partnerships of schools, with a focus on harnessing enterprise as a vehicle for school improvement.

Ready Unlimited aims to transform young people’s skills, attitudes and outcomes by helping educators develop enterprising and entrepreneurial learning and culture as a key part of education. The ultimate ambition is that young people access an ‘enterprise entitlement’ - a coherent and progressive programme of enterprise learning that starts as soon as they begin school and continues through their education. To achieve this, teachers are supported to develop enterprise through the curriculum, in order to enhance engagement in learning and improve the quality of education, as well as enable children and young people to learn about the world of work and business they will one day transfer their skills into.

The approach isn’t just about implementing mini-company programmes and making and selling things (though that might be a part of enterprise/social enterprise curricula), it is much more about developing the entrepreneurial capabilities, behaviours and culture of educators, young people and the wider community.

Ready Unlimited aims to contribute to the mission of school leaders to improve learning and achievement, rather than detract from it by adding ‘yet another’ bolt-on to the curriculum. In a time of constrained resources and the increased pressure of accountability measures, there is a potential opportunity cost for Head Teachers related to investing time and resources into developing enterprise instead of, say, after school booster classes for core subjects. The latter may potentially have a much clearer impact on attainment (the key performance measure for schools in England), and the benefits be much more clearly attributed to the intervention. The work of Ready Unlimited draws a line between enterprising teachers developing enterprising learning, and the achievement and attainment of pupils. At the same time it enables school leaders to see how enterprise can be a driver for curriculum innovation, teacher engagement and pupil achievement.

The approach was developed through Rotherham Ready,  an local enterprise education programme set up in 2005. A key element of the programme was to train teachers to develop enterprising and entrepreneurial learning through and beyond the curriculum for all young people. This strategy was really successful, energising teachers, motivating learners, and developing deeper connections between classroom learning and the real world/world of work and business. It led to Rotherham being crowned ‘The Most Enterprising Place in Britain’ in 2010 for the way enterprise was prioritised and developed in education and more generally in the town.

But by 2011 a number of forces combined to threaten the progress made. The global financial crisis and subsequent recession resulted in harsh public sector cuts, leading to less resources for the school improvement and economic regeneration departments that helped support enterprise in schools. External funding streams that had maintained and sustained enterprise projects and provision were also running dry. The change in government in the UK and shift in policy towards academic rigour left enterprise off the education agenda. And finally, the fragmentation of the schools system was underway, with new free schools and academies being set up and a reduction in Local Authority influence and resources - impacting on the ability to provide a strategic approach at a local level.

To continue to operate in this environment, Ready Unlimited ‘spun out’ of the council, as an independent social enterprise that could sustain its social impact by generating income directly from schools, partnerships of schools, colleges, universities and Local Authorities. The context within which Ready Unlimited operates now is challenging. There are fewer resources for enterprise education, no policy incentives and a diverse range of schooling arrangements. The low priority that schools place on enterprise means that sometimes only the most innovative school leaders, or those previously involved with enterprise education, are willing to invest school resources into this area. School budgets vary enormously too, with some schools receiving significant sums through the Pupil Premium policy, and others making staff cuts because of dwindling resources. Local authorities that might have been interested in these services are also suffering from budget cuts. In its report, Under Pressure, the Local Government Association states that councils are only ‘half way through a scheduled 40 per cent cut in funding from central government’, suggesting that local services will shrink by a further 66% by the end of the decade. Schools under pressure to perform academically may not make an instant connection between enterprise learning and better outcomes for pupils and the community; it may seem too risky for these schools, or too much work, or a distraction, especially when the accountability measures they are required to improve against are based on performance in tests and exams.

Finally, the communication channels that would have enabled more strategic approaches to be developed in education, and partnerships developed with larger numbers of schools are fragmenting. The education landscape now is a diverse mix of state schools, individual academies, academy chains and free schools. The reality now is that enterprising and entrepreneurial education in England is down to the individual inclinations of teachers and Head Teachers. 

Though these factors and this environment is challenging, they also represent an opportunity. Schools, now in control of their own resources, can make decisions about how and on what they spend money. And whilst the budgets of local authorities have shrunk, the Local Enterprise Partnerships are being encouraged by government to spend some of their substantial (unspent) resource on skills and social inclusion.  Finally, despite the incredible financial pressure existing in Local Government, there is still a recognition that improved exam results alone are not transforming communities, and that something else needs to be done to help develop resilient and creative people and sustainable and vibrant places.


Ready Unlimited developed out of an award winning enterprise education programme called Rotherham Ready, an initiative embedded within the School Effectiveness Service of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in South Yorkshire, England.  For most of the 20th century Rotherham’s economy was dependant on coal and steel. Secure well paid jobs in these industries meant that there was little tradition of enterprise to fill the vacuum when they collapsed in the 1980s.  In the last decade there has been massive investment in the physical regeneration of Rotherham, including the building of new business parks and a town centre facelift. But there was a growing recognition that real regeneration needed to happen in the hearts and minds of the town’s citizens, not just the physical landscape. So, Rotherham Ready was developed, with the aim of creating a ‘culture of enterprise’ in education. The programme had three strands to its work:

  1. training teachers to develop enterprise learning for 4-19 years olds,
  2. bridging the gap between business and education through employer engagement programmes Make £5 Blossom and Young Entrepreneurs Clubs,
  3. harnessing the Warwick Award for Excellence in Enterprise Education to ensure the enterprise learning being developed was of high quality and sustainable.

At the time enterprise education had a higher priority in England; secondary schools had allocated funding to develop enterprise education, in order to fulfil the ambition of the Davies Review (2002) that students had at least five days of enterprise learning a year. Primary schools were less well served, though research into persistent educational underachievement by Hoshin(2007) informed the ‘Ready’ approach. The research studied persistent educational underachievement in Yorkshire and the Humber and found that attitudes and mind-sets about future jobs and opportunities was a critical factor in young people’s underachievement. For some young people, not knowing ‘what’s out there’, or not believing they would be able to access it, was detrimental to their attitudes towards school and motivation to learn. Crucially, the research also showed that these attitudes were set at an early age, in primary schools. The researchers recommended that learning about, through and for, enterprise and work, was introduced at an early age. The existing resources for secondary schools, and the recognition that early intervention was crucial, led to the design of a four year programme that built on existing good practice in secondary and further education (FE), but took the journey back to the start of young people’s education. So Rotherham Ready worked with educators who impacted in children from age 4-19.

Rotherham Ready benefited from four years funding from the regional development agency, Yorkshire Forward, which resourced a school liaison officer, a project officer and a project manager. From 2008 it started to scale some or all aspects of its programmes in other areas including Hull, Scarborough, Calderdale and Lincolnshire. The Rotherham Ready team began to develop a traded service within the council and in June 2013 two members of staff ‘spun out’ of the council to set up Ready Unlimited, enabling an independent social enterprise to exist and trade with schools, partnerships of schools, colleges, universities and local authorities across the UK and internationally. Ready Unlimited still works in partnership with Rotherham Ready, developing and testing new approaches to enterprise. For example, Ready Hubs involves training created by Ready Unlimited, and liaison with schools provided by Rotherham Ready.

Description of the organisation and its work

Ready Unlimited supports educators to create enterprising and entrepreneurial curricula, culture and projects in order to help young people and communities develop the skills, knowledge, attitudes and behaviours that will help them in learning and life.

Ready Unlimited is different because it

The approach includes working with educators that teach young people aged 4-19, but also developing ‘Ready Hubs’, which are cross phase partnerships that enable the development of a coherent enterprise entitlement and impact on people and the community outside the 4-19 age bracket. 

Key programme elements include:

Ready Unlimited combines training, coaching and consultancy to design and deliver bespoke programmes to support schools to address their development points through enterprise. The income from this work sustains the social enterprise and helps grow the social impact. The small team (two members of staff), augment their capacity by developing teachers and Head Teachers as co-trainers. For example, with Derbyshire Ready, a partnership created between Ready Unlimited and Derbyshire County Council, a group of Head Teacher co-trainers has taken 90 schools through the Derbyshire Ready programme. For large scale Initial Teacher Training programmes, teachers that have been involved in Ready programmes for a number of years are engaged and supported to facilitate training. The result of this is that Ready Unlimited can operate a relatively lean organisation, whilst accessing and developing excellent and skilled facilitators (who have developed the Ready approach in their own schools) - as and when they are needed.

ready unlimited teacher group 1 ready unlimited teacher group 2
Teachers scrutinising existing practice and provision

Anchoring in partner schools

An aspect of Ready Unlimited’s work is the expectation that developing enterprising and entrepreneurial learning is not a tick box activity or something that is ‘achieved’, but rather an approach to learning that is in constant evolution. The level of challenge requires adapting the more skilled and entrepreneurial students become. A Five Phase ‘Ready Schools’ development model has been created that communicates this journey to schools, and sets out the types of interventions that Ready Unlimited provides at different stages. For example, at the beginning, whole staff training is appropriate to ensure all staff get the same message at the same time. But later, more specific coaching is required for individual planning teams, or for staff with specific roles to look at how they can create more enterprising learning if they are, for example, the librarian or learning mentor.

The Ready philosophy is that enterprising and entrepreneurial approaches drive the curriculum, learning and culture of a school, and this is made clear at the start of a partnership with a school. At the beginning of the partnership, a scoping exercise takes place to understand the schools’ starting point and identify any school development priorities. Maths, literacy, transition and parental engagement, are typical development points, and can be approached using an enterprising ‘lens’. Because the focus is on staff (rather than delivering an activity to students), this approach is deeply anchored within the school, changing how teachers think about and plan learning. Addressing school development points through enterprise also reinforces the notion that it is not another thing to do, but rather a new approach to existing provision and practice. For example, one Ready Hub (partnership of primary schools, working with its secondary school and business, family and the wider community), had literacy, speaking and listening as a priority development point across its learning community. Staff asked pupils involved in the Ready Hub how they could provide opportunities for young people to improve these skills in an enterprising way and it led to the creation of a community magazine, focused on enterprise, with each school writing and contributing items. Teachers supported pupils from each school to come up with enterprising ideas to generate interest in literacy. These included organising a themed poetry competition, arranging interviews with enterprising role models and developing reports on projects and trips that had an enterprise angle. As well as developing their enterprise skills by organising these activities, the magazine provided learners with an audience and focus for writing and the content enabled a different way for them to explore and develop their understanding of enterprise. Staff from the local paper provided master classes in writing for news, magazine design and selling advertising, and the young people from the secondary school ran the magazine as a venture, selling advertising to local businesses and developing employer links for Ready Hub schools. The magazine was also distributed and sold to the community, raising awareness of the Ready Hub and leading to volunteers and new ideas for future projects. The project was enabled because of the co-design and co-production element with schools – working to identify their development points and shaping an enterprising project that would meet their needs.

The ultimate aim is that enterprise should not be dependent on one or two key members of staff in an institution. Ready Unlimited supports schools to embed enterprise into its processes and systems and make it a core part of school life, so if a Head Teacher or Enterprise Champion moves on, other staff, the governing body and parents enable enterprise to continue. Addressing the leadership and management of enterprise and using tools like the Warwick University’s Centre for Education and Industry quality framework to support schools helps to develop enterprise learning that is high quality and sustainable.

Achievements and impact

Ready Unlimited’s track record has been scrutinised, with an independent evaluation hailing its first programme, Rotherham Ready as ‘more of a movement than a project.’ Rotherham Ready was also the first enterprise programme to be evaluated by Ofsted, the English schools inspectorate, and it found the programme inspired educators to create good and outstanding learning that led to confident and engaged learners.

More recently, an ethnographic study of Ready Unlimited’s work by ESRO Ltd found that enterprise education was impacting on the attitudes, behaviours and culture of young people, their families and friends. It showed that enterprise in school was having an impact way beyond the school gates, changing what young people did with their spare time, the conversations they had with their families and even the sorts of computer games they played. This study also held a mirror up to the vulnerabilities of young people’s enterprise entitlement when they transitioned from primary to secondary school, and provided the data necessary to galvanise schools to co-design the Ready Hubs model.

The Innovation Unit also looked at the impact of Ready Unlimited, conducting a textual analysis of Ofsted reports and interviewed Head Teachers. Key findings included:

Evaluation in enterprise learning is a difficult subject, because different programmes have different objectives. Ready Unlimited aims to support schools to harness enterprise as a vehicle for school improvement, and this is a little researched area in enterprise education.

The Specialist Schools and Academies Trust (2009), published a case study of three schools that were successfully using their Business and Enterprise (B&E) specialisim to raise standards, and also found that (starting from a lower base), GCSE results in B&E schools were rising at a slightly faster rate than in other schools. It summarised: “Ofsted judgements from whole school inspections on the curriculum, students’ economic well-being and leadership and management were on average higher in B&E schools than in other schools.” (p1).

This data gives an indication of the outcomes and impact of developing teachers; however a gap in the evidence is whether these outcomes help contribute to school improvement.

Whole school approaches are notoriously hard to evaluate. This is exacerbated in Rotherham where externally funded enterprise projects have come and gone, and have had different foci, outputs and outcomes according to the funding criteria. However, Ready Unlimited’s work outside of Rotherham presents a new opportunity for evaluation. Derbyshire Ready is a large scale programme, where Ready Unlimited took Head Teachers and Teachers through professional development programme to strengthen and embed enterprising and entrepreneurial learning, teaching and culture in schools.

A study of Derbyshire Ready Ofsted reports (under the tougher new schools inspection framework from 2012-2013), showed that 95% of schools had positive comments about enterprise, enterprise skills or enterprise teaching, learning, projects or culture in their Ofsted reports. Ofsted inspectors frequently highlighted the impact of enterprise in relation to engagement of young people in learning. It impacted positively on students’ attitudes towards and attendance at school, the behaviour and pride that was being developed through enterprise projects, and the preparation for learning and life that enterprising curricula and culture developed.

Interviews were carried out with some of these Head Teachers to find out what difference their involvement in the Derbyshire Ready programme had made. The comments below show that developing enterprise was fundamental in creating learning and an environment that impacted on the attitudes and behaviour of staff and pupils:

“You started seeing changes quickly – children talking excitedly about what they are doing. Coming back from break and they’ve been thinking about it, on a wet play and they’re brain storming ideas and writing it down, then they’re bringing bits of paper in from home with their ideas. They’d never thought about what they could do for someone else. They started to realise they could have an impact on things, they could do something. They were saying ‘have you seen this,’ and ‘I’ve got an idea about this,’ or ‘I’ve done this.”    Head Teacher, School B.

“You see the impact on their behaviour, it just fits with them, because children are really involved. It’s a privilege to be in the classroom. We had this child that kept getting excluded, but now he’s changed his behaviour to get into the classroom.  He saw it was a privilege to be there and he was missing out by being excluded.” Head Teacher, School A.

“The biggest change has been around the motivation to learn. Before, the motivation to learn would have been extrinsic, it would have come from the teachers, or from the curriculum; make teacher happy, do that piece of work. Now it's about intrinsic motivation, it's coming from them, they want to learn because they feel like they are in control.”              Head Teacher, School C.

Crucially (see chart below), Derbyshire Ready schools were twice as likely to have improved (gone up an Ofsted grade), than non-participating schools. Whilst it is not possible to attribute this improvement solely to the Derbyshire Ready involvement this data shows, taken with the evidence from Head Teachers, that enterprise can be a part of a picture of school improvement, engaging staff and pupils in purposeful and high quality learning.

ready unlimited ofsted judgement
Derbyshire Ready Ofsted judgements and non-participating schools Ofsted Judgements.

In addition to this study, Ready Unlimited has developed partnerships with universities to improve the external scrutiny of its programmes. For example the University of Sheffield explored the rationale and development of the Ready Hub model, and the University of Wales Trinity St David is currently looking at the Impact Evaluation Framework. In addition to this, Ready Unlimited monitors the progress of schools by capturing qualitative and quantitative data before, during and after training. This data informs the design of training programmes and helps schools understand their starting points, identify areas for development and reflect on whether their aims are being achieved. Two methods are used for this – progress capture forms where educators write about their progress on gap tasks (tasks set in between training days), and data from the Impact Evaluation Framework.

We also gather case studies from individual schools or practitioners that capture the potential of enterprise as a vehicle for school improvement. For example, Tealby School in Lincolnshire started working with Ready Unlimited in 2012, and was recently judged to have improved from good to outstanding. And Herringthorpe Infant School in Rotherham, which recently improved from good to outstanding, is in an area of serious deprivation but harnesses enterprise to create a culture of high expectations and challenge. Inspectors praised its enterprising approach, saying it made school ‘a rich and memorable experience’ for children. And the success of former Initial Teacher Training (ITT) students like Amy Willoughby, who said the enterprise project she developed on her school placement as a result of her training helped secure her first job, and a whole school responsibility for enterprise. Now she has been promoted to Literacy Co-ordinator so her effective enterprising approaches to writing, speaking and listening will be developed across the school.

Success factors

Obstacles and ways to overcome them

A common obstacle in the development of enterprise in schools occurs when a limited number of teachers take part in professional development, but then have the job of engaging others. This can lead to a situation where enterprise is ‘someone else’s job’ rather than a shared responsibility across a school. Whole school training, and effective leadership and management are crucial so that all staff understand and value enterprise education and have the skills and incentives to develop it in their role.

A practical obstacle is that time-starved teaches can perceive enterprise education as ‘yet another’ thing to do, when they already have a long list of competing responsibilities to fulfil. This is where the professional development of teachers is crucial – they need the time and space to understand how they can take a more enterprising approach to their role, practice and duties in school. Taking time to allow them to connect to the ‘Big Picture’ is important – contemplating the scale of the challenge that young people face finding and making work enables them to see why enterprise should be a crucial part of a 21st century education. Then supporting them to re-imagine the learning and experiences they design in a way that enables young people to become enterprising and entrepreneurial.

The biggest obstacle for enterprise education in England is the lack of statutory policy. It is perceived as low priority for schools since policy incentives like Every Child Matters were reversed and a plan to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education statutory at all key stages was discontinued. 

As an organisation, Ready Unlimited has worked hard to help make the case for enterprise education being a statutory learning entitlement for all young people. It has hosted visitors including HRH the Duke of York, who is an advocate for enterprise in the UK; Lord Young, the Prime Minister’s Enterprise Advisor; advisors and civil servants from Downing Street and the Government’s Department of Business, Information and Skills (BIS), and education inspectors from Ofsted.  Ready Unlimited Directors have also taken part in a national Enterprise Education review. However, what is urgently required is a coherent policy for enterprise and entrepreneurship education in the UK, making it is a compulsory part of all young people’s education entitlement. It will then be mandated through the national curriculum, part of the Ofsted inspection framework and integrated into teachers/trainee teachers training and CPD. Without that policy, this sort of educational experience and learning will be limited to schools and classrooms based on the inclinations of individual schools and Head Teachers. 

The final obstacle is in robust impact measurement. Ready Unlimited works hard to generate data about the impact of its approaches and understand what works and why. However, the sort of scientific and experimental studies that would produce the robust standards of evidence increasingly expected is out of reach for small organisations. An opportunity exists for interested universities to partner with practitioners and providers in order to take a more scientific and systematic approach to impact measurement and to generate new evidence that moves the field of enterprising and entrepreneurial learning forward.

[1] Gibb (2002), CREATING CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENTS FOR LEARNING AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Living with, dealing with, creating and enjoying uncertainty and complexity. Industry and Higher Education, p 135 – 147. 

Teachers scrutinising existing practice and provision: