Exam results ‘aren’t everything’ for future entrepreneurs, says Damian Hinds
Good exam results are no guarantee of future success, the education secretary, Damian Hinds, has said, arguing that “drive and tenacity” and a greater tolerance for failure can encourage young people to be more entrepreneurial.
Hinds’s comments came in an interview with the Guardian after he hosted a roundtable with young entrepreneurs, who told him students should be equipped with the basics of financial literacy to make it easier to start their own businesses.
“Exams that come at the end of school, they’re very important qualifications, but I think it is also important to know that those exams clearly aren’t everything,” Hinds said.
“I invite people to think back to when they were 16 and the kids they left school with – most people can think of some who left with great exam grades but they invariably remember someone who left school with nothing or next to nothing but has gone on to do something quite remarkable, whether it’s starting a business or creating something dramatic.
“Quite often the difference is nothing to do with qualifications, it’s to do with what’s inside: the drive, the tenacity.
“I am not downplaying the importance of GCSEs and A-levels, they are incredibly important as a measure of what you have learned and what you can do, and we know that employers value them highly. But on their own they are not the determinate of a successful career, and they are not a determinate of being able to start up a great business.”
The education secretary’s comments come as hundreds of thousands of pupils across the UK are deep into revision for GCSE, A-level and Scottish Highers exams they will be sitting in just a few weeks’ time.
Hinds heard from the entrepreneurs, including author and Instagram star Alice Liveing, that understanding the rudiments of accounting and finance was one of the biggest barriers to business start-ups for those straight out of school and university.
One of the participants, Akshay Ruparelia, a 20-year-old who founded the online estate agency Doorsteps while he was still in sixth form, said connecting schools and industry to encourage entrepreneurship could be life-changing for young people.
“I think we need to change, culturally, away from the constrictions of a simple, monotone grading system and start to understand that we need to develop young, bright, well-rounded individuals – whether entrepreneurs or not,” Ruparelia said.
“The grading system does not capture more holistic soft skills – communication, leadership, and so on. Schools alone can try to harness this through extracurricular opportunities to reach beyond their comfort zones and offering more opportunity for kids to fail and learn from the failures, in the safe ecosphere that they’re in.”
Hinds noted that apprentices in Germany are required to take academic subjects alongside their vocational training, so that they can also study business and economics.
“I do think that learning about concepts of finance and personal finance in maths is a positive thing. With more young people moving away from home at age 18 and dealing with their own finances, I think it’s an open question about what more we can do,” Hinds said.
The aim of the roundtable was to inform a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy review into the barriers facing young people starting their own businesses, particularly young entrepreneurs from disadvantaged and low-income backgrounds.
Hinds revealed that as a teenager he had flirted with becoming a technology entrepreneur, by selling computer games he’d designed on a Commodore Vic-20, one of the first mass-produced personal computers, in the 1980s.
“I was big on computers as a kid. I used to write fairly basic games, and sold a few by mail order, but it was never a business that you could call successful. It was good experience to do it: you placed a classified ad in computer enthusiast magazines, in the days when games or programs came on cassette tape.
“I sold one that was a lawnmower game. I did others as well, but the lawnmower one, you had to cut all the grass while avoiding obstacles like stones.
“I was a part-time geek, I was never a full-on geek. I would not want to give the impression this was a great success. I sold a few,” Hinds said.