Sugar on education
From a humble childhood growing up in Hackney, East London, to now owning a fortune estimated at £730m, businessman and entrepreneur Lord Alan Sugar is a modern rags to riches tale.
Having left school at 16 to sell car aerials from the back of his car, Lord Sugar went on to make his name from AMSTRAD, a consumer electronics business that specialised first in car stereos, TVs and hi-fi units, and later personal computers.
He is now the star of BBC’s The Apprentice, and owns a collection of lucrative businesses, including Viglen, an IT services company that has enjoyed much success within the education sector.
The growth of IT
Back in the 80s, the computer was only just being to be introduced to schools and the AMSTRAD brand was responsible for giving many schools their first computing experience. Now the role of IT in education has grown massively, helping to deliver all subjects in the curriculum, as well as enabling new and interactive ways of learning.
“The new generation of students will know a computer in the same way as I knew a pencil and textbook,” commented Lord Sugar. “Schools have to make the most of technology and use it to its maximum in order to turn out students who are ready for the workplace in which technology has taken over completely.”
Lord Sugar’s company Viglen has helped many schools implement an IT infrastructure fit for the needs of modern day education. The company was recently awarded a position on the BECTA ICT Services Framework agreement, which will grow the company’s position in education further by allowing them to bid for all major educational ICT projects.
The business side of education
In recent years there has been a shift in how schools are run, with many choosing to operate on a business model. The wave of recent academies, for example, has seen private sector organisations get involved in education through sponsorship. And now, with the new government’s push for free schools, which will be founded by parents and teachers and run by private sector organisations or charities, there will be even more private sector involvement.
As a successful businessman, Lord Sugar can see the benefit of forming such partnerships: “The role of private sector sponsorship in education is a two way thing; private organisations invest money to improve facilities as well as offering time, experience and advice, while students benefit from the sponsor’s knowledge of the work place.
“Too many students leave school with no knowledge of the working environment so this gives them an advantage that future employers can take advantage of. In turn we should end up with a better prepared workforce.”
More freedom for schools
Now more schools are being freed from local authority control and given the freedom to spend their own budgets, the business acumen of staff will be tested. But are they prepared for this?
“With more freedom comes more responsibility and this is an evolving challenge for academies, commented Lord Sugar. “They should therefore make the most of sponsors and private sector investors who can offer help and support.
“But with current public sector spending cuts, the key thing is that there is now less money around and everyone has to learn how to spend it more wisely – whether that is the local authority or the school.”
The Academies Bill passed in May gives schools rated as outstanding by Ofsted pre-approved academy status. However, the government has only received lukewarm reception of this invitation.
Commenting on this, Lord Sugar said: “There are some fantastic opportunities that come along with academy status from which all schools could benefit. However, outstanding schools are doing well under the current system and there is still so much confusion regarding the consequences of transferring to an academy it’s no surprise that they aren’t jumping at the opportunity.”
The rise of social networking
Lord Sugar has a large Twitter following and made the headlines recently for his Twitter blow-outs with other celebrities. So how does he feel about social networking in education? “Social networking is a useful tool for communication. It will become the new way of passing news in the future if we see the demise of the conventional newspaper.
“However, there are issues that need to be considered relating to the addiction to these things which can seriously affect the younger person. I feel there needs to be parental control as to the use of these sites. I also believe that legislation will soon be needed to limit the entry and activities of these sites to ensure the safety of the user.”
Moving on to safety of a different kind, there has been much discussion about drastic security measures being introduced to in schools such as CCTV and metal detectors. Under the new government, teachers will be given powers to frisk students for items they fear will be used to harm others or break the law, such as pornography, tobacco, fireworks, mobile phones and cameras.
“We live in a different society than the days when I was at school,” said Lord Sugar. “So for many reasons, it is necessary to deploy technology to assist in the security for both pupils and staff.”
Lord Sugar’s company Viglen will be exhibiting at BETT 2011, the world’s largest technology in education show, at London Olympia 12-15 January.
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