Entrepreneurial schoolgirls shrug off talk of glass ceiling & boardroom quotas to get Ahead of the Game

Business minded school girls are shrugging off talk of glass ceilings and boardroom quotas. From north Yorkshire to Dorset, it seems their entrepreneurial spirit can’t be quashed. They’re even winning national awards.

A girls’ school in Harrogate has won the Education Initiative of the Year category at the recent 2012 UK ISA awards for their innovative Business School with commercial sector role models and global mind set, while five girls from Dorset have won another national competition – Ahead of the Game – to acknowledge and inspire entrepreneurial drive and achievement.

Harrogate Ladies College launched the HLC Business School in 2010. Its all-female pupils study economics, accounting, business studies and psychology in a state of the art business-like environment which helps prepare them to play an active part in business in an increasingly global world. School principal and Girls’ Schools Association member, Rhiannon Wilkinson, put a trained chartered accountant in charge.

The results have been profound. In two years pupils studying business related A levels increased from 24 to 63, pupils staying on for sixth form increased from 25% to 75%, every girl in the school has been offered an enterprise opportunity, 36 pupils (63%) of Lower Sixth are directors of an enterprise company, 30% of the school’s Middle School have participated in the HLC Apprentice Challenge (Years 7-9), all Lower School pupils have participated in at least one enterprise challenge, the school’s pupil role has increased from 278 to 333, and pupils have met over 20 role models introducing them to the realities of the commercial world including entrepreneurs and senior executives.

Karen Hubbard, executive director for store proposition at Asda, one of the participating companies, said: “I’m hugely impressed with what the school has set out to achieve. It is extremely important we encourage women to enter the world of business, to ensure employers can select the best candidates from the most diverse pool possible.”

Meanwhile five girls from Dorset have battled their way to the top to win Ahead of the Game, a national Young Apprentice-style competition – backed by Royal Bank of Scotland, former Apprentice finalist Claire Young and Smart Study UK – to find the female entrepreneurs of the future.

The competition was open to Year 10 girls in over 170 Girls’ Schools Association (‘GSA’) schools and other girls’ schools. It culminated in a final battle between six finalists hosted by RiM Blackberry. Maddie Barber, Rachel Bucklow, Flora Ritchie, Alicia Baines and Andie Vinycomb from Sherborne Girls’ School impressed the judges with their winning business plan for PictureIT, their company that provides photographic tours of their school as well as training in digital and social media.

Philip Reynolds of joint sponsor Smart Study UK said: “Choosing a winner was a close call but this was a great business idea that deserved to win. The girls had a clear USP providing digital literacy training and products for the ‘grey’ market, their start-up costs were low, the potential profit was clear from day one and importantly their business would be scalable via publishing.”

The competition has raised £10,500 profit – which will be donated to local charities – and has involved almost 400 girls since its commencement in March. It was spearheaded by Girls’ Schools Association president Louise Robinson who is also head of Merchant Taylors Girls’ School. She said: “These are great achievements by girls and their schools. It’s been suggested that an all-girls environment encourages a more risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit in girls and here’s more proof.”

At another GSA school – Moreton Hall School in Shropshire – the girls run numerous businesses and seven on-site retail outlets, including a Rymans stationery store and a Barclays Bank. All the businesses are run entirely by sixth form students and last year the team generated a record turnover of £50,000.

Last month Charlotte Vere, who takes over as GSA executive director in January, said there can be no excuse for promoting anybody other than 100 per cent on merit and that women in business must feel truly equal, not that they are just there to make up the numbers.

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