Teaching social enterprise: Scotland leads the way

Should social enterprise be on every school curriculum? It will be in Scotland by 2028. We find out what pupils and teachers think about a groundbreaking programme led by the Social Enterprise Academy and the Scottish government. 

“Social enterprise should be an organic part of the curriculum, because it’s connected with the fundamental principles of justice and creating conscience-led communities.”

These are the words of Clare Harker, headteacher of St Albert’s primary school in Glasgow, speaking at a social enterprise conference in Scotland in 2017. Her school takes part in long-running project headed by the Edinburgh-based Social Enterprise Academy (SEA) which aims to introduce social enterprise into all schools across Scotland.

Presenting their work at the Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh in September 2018, four of the school’s pupils said: “Being involved in social enterprise projects gives us first-hand experience of the responsibilities associated in running businesses that are successful, profitable, conscience-led and community-focused.”

Above: Watch Arhum, Zinab, Zarah and Salahudin from St Albert's tell the Social Enterprise World Forum 2018 about their experiences running their own social enterprise


The SEA’s Social Enterprise in Education programme began 11 years ago – giving pupils hands-on experience of running businesses with social purposes. The programme has reached over 1,000 schools already and the aim is for full coverage of the country’s 5,000-plus schools over the next nine years.

“It’s groundbreaking,” says Juliet Cornford, social enterprise advisor at the British Council. “All children in Scotland will have the opportunity to experience and try social enterprise as part of their education. Nowhere else in the world is achieving that at the moment.” 

Above: Watch headteacher Clare Harker explain why she's passionate about introducing primary school pupils to social enterprise


The Scottish government, which is well-known for championing social enterprise across the country, has been “the driving force” behind the project’s success, says Emily Mnyayi, head of social enterprise in education at SEA. At the moment, the government is providing funding to work with 250 new schools each year. 

The programme fits well alongside the school curriculum and the SEA emphasises that the skills that pupils can develop are broad, including leadership and entrepreneurship as well as numeracy and literacy.  

“It’s groundbreaking. All children in Scotland will have the opportunity to experience and try social enterprise as part of their education”

 “The Scottish Government has been exploring what could be done in schools to develop, not only enterprise skills but entrepreneurial spirit: resilience and creativity, the ability to work with others and to bounce back if something doesn’t go to plan,” Mnyayi explains. 

“These skills aren’t something you can teach: young people have to explore for themselves.”

After some preparatory work and a pupil workship to unpick what the young people are really passionate about and the changes they’d like to see in their communities, the aim of the programme is for pupils to set up their own social enterprise based in the school. 

In practice, many of the enterprises generate funds for an existing project, such as a local charity. However, the young people also explore the full range of business skills, from finance to marketing; and, Cornford points out, one crucial difference with conventional fundraising projects as well as conventional entrepreneurship skills is that they are being “empowered to realise that that if they see something in their community that they inherently think is not right, they have the power and the skills to do something about it.” 

Social enterprise in schools Scotland Shawlands Academy

The primary-aged children at St Denis’ primary school in Glasgow, for instance, have made, marketed and sold their own ‘mindfulness’ products to support a local play therapy charity.

Teacher Emma Dunne explains: “I teach a class of 24 seven and eight-year-olds in an area of high deprivation and socio-economic difficulty. They wanted to do something that would help people with their mindfulness, and made a whole range of things – a‘mindfulness journal’, ‘worry-stones’, ‘mindfulness jars’ and so on – and sold them. It’s given them so much confidence, and we’ve made quite a substantial amount for a local play charity.” 

At another Glasgow school, Hollybrook Academy, which caters for students with additional learning needs, the students have set up a social enterprise using food donated by another social enterprise, FareShare.

“The school company makes soup and scones for the staff every Thursday using the donation of the veg, and the bakery side is used for the community café on a Friday,” says teacher Irene McNally. “All profits go to Child Bereavement UK, which is particularly relevant as a considerable number of these young people have life-threatening and life-limiting conditions.” 

They also gain hugely from the experience. “You’d think making soup every week would be boring, but there are so many different roles,” McNally points out, “handling the money, taking the bowls up, making the loudspeaker announcements, making a PowerPoint presentation (they did one in the City Chambers, even though most of them are non-readers) and so on.”

At another school, Emily, 12 and Katrina, 17, are part of another social enterprise, making products to support Highland Hospice. “When we first heard about it, we were really excited to get going and raise money,” they say. “It helps us with our maths skills as well. Working as a team really builds up your skills, and if you’re trying to sell things it works up your people skills too. We also have a Facebook page and various social media – and we do it all in Gaelic, which shows that we are a local business project.”

A similar programme has been running through the SEA’s hub in Australia for three years and the next step for the SEA is a pilot in Malawi beginning this spring. In September, another pilot will start with 20 schools in south London, and it is hoped a pilot will begin soon in Wales. On top of this, the SEA has partnered with the Real Ideas Organisation and the British Council to develop free social enterprise lesson teaching packs and lesson plans that are being used in schools in countries including Greece, Mexico and Kazakhstan. The SEA is also exploring the options for its 10 other international hubs.

Back in Scotland, Emily and Katrina are also passing on their skills to younger students. “This year we invited pupils at the local primary school to come and see what we do,” they conclude. “Then when they come up to high school, they can keep this social enterprise going themselves.”

SEWF 2019 Ethiopia