Reece Leggett is the Business Leader for the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, and an Academic Member of the IOEE. He leads the programme management of Level 3 Business, and his innovative and refreshing approach to teaching entrepreneurship has changed the shape of business courses at the institute, which has been awarded Outstanding in its recent Ofsted inspection. This month we chatted with Reece about Dragon’s Den, Global Entrepreneurship Week, and his mentoring ambitions for the future.
In February 2016, Reece began his current role at the Grimsby Institute as a man on a mission; to implement a far more enterprising and entrepreneurial approach to business courses in order to properly prepare its students for the realities of the working world. Reece says:
“I went straight in at the deep end and had a few months to make big changes, and then September 2016 saw the beginning of my first full academic year. There was this old-fashioned approach to business, where students were just studying the same old sort of units - sitting in a classroom and learning about ‘the principles of marketing’ etc., and it just wasn’t innovative. I made it my mission to change this.”
Reece’s students are 16-18 year-olds, and their two years of studying gives them the equivalent qualification to three traditional A-Levels, as well as the same number of UCAS points, and the specific business focus itself is one of the elements that informs the course syllabus:
“Business is one of those subjects that is often linked to A-Levels and, unlike more ‘creative’ vocational courses, it’s quite unusual to be focusing on one academic subject at this stage of education. As a result, we’ve tried to ensure that the course is as broad as possible, so that students are still getting a comprehensive education even whilst honing in on this one subject. So, students might be studying Business, but they’re also studying Accounting, HR, Advertising etc.”
One example of Reece’s innovative approach would be how he has turned the traditional recruitment fair on its head, so that it also adds a networking component to students’ certificates:
“You’ll find so many recruitment fairs with businesses behind their stands, and students wandering around a bit inhibited or intimidated, simply picking up a few business cards and a free pen, and that will be that! However, what we’re going to do is have the students being the ones behind the stands, showcasing themselves and their work. Employers will be the ones walking around, with just a name badge and nothing that alludes to the company that they’re from, so it will be up to students to find out more and build business relationships and contacts.”
Another of the innovative ways that Reece has developed the business courses is by linking up with existing businesses in the local community, which not only gives the students first-hand and real-life connections and experiences with the industry, but also forms part of their assessment process and final qualifications. Reece says:
“We’re closing that gap between education and work, and we’ve gone out to industry and said ‘will you work with us and develop a qualification with us’, and through this we’ve been able to create a joint entrepreneurship certificate that they can study alongside their main business qualification. It’s a fully engaged industry qualification, and we’re very excited for its launch this academic year.”
Reece says that the popularity of doing business courses is growing, and believes that the media’s portrayal of being an entrepreneur is partly responsible for its renewed credibility:
“I think the idea of being entrepreneurial is shifting, and there are TV programmes out there that are raising the profile of starting a business and are influencing young people. Shows such as The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den are dressed up as ‘entertainment’, and students don’t realise that they’re actually watching a business programme - but they are thinking, ‘I want to be sat in those chairs’.
These ‘trendy’ media portrayals also inspires the course components as well as the students, by creating a space in which they can play with these familiar frameworks:
“In Global Entrepreneurship Week in November, we have a Dragon’s Den Day. Students are put into groups and have to come up with a business idea and pitch their product or service to actual industry entrepreneurs in the local area, getting questioned by the ‘dragons’ to see if anyone of them will choose to invest.”
Reece says that this practical approach extends far past students’ exploratory exercises, and that this type of exercise is also used in assessment too:
“It doesn’t make sense to hang onto that old-fashioned ‘sitting down in a classroom and doing a traditional exam’ idea all the time; it doesn’t work for everything. Students are now assessed via presentations, projects, pitching and roleplay too. For example, in an HR Management assessment, students may be asked to conduct an employee interview or a disciplinary meeting.
“This course is undoubtedly intense, with about nine units per year, but you get a lot of focused and disciplined students here. I think one of the reasons people are pulled to studying business is that students know that this course will serve them afterwards - these skills will always be relevant, in any industry or walk of life. And professionally, no employer is every going to say, ‘so, why did you decide to study business?’!”
In the short space of time that Reece has been with the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, the impact he has made through his inspirational innovation has been recognised and commended by various governing and awarding bodies, including excelling in its recent Ofsted inspection in May. Being assessed in nine different elements, the institute got Outstanding in eight out of the nine, which was not only the first time that it has been awarded Outstanding overall, but also now makes it the only Ofsted Outstanding college in the Lincolnshire and Humber regions. Reece says:
“They were in for four days, which was obviously really nerve-racking, but this has been a massive achievement and we’re all really pleased. And this status will hopefully attract more students in the future as well. The number of our course applications is already growing - which is really interesting when you consider that lots of schools are stopping GCSE Business - yet we’re seeing the numbers go up despite that. Preparing students for the working world is what motivates me - knowing that you’re helping them to shape their futures and their lives.”
It is this motivation for helping people to realise their potential that fuelled Reece to become an Academic Member of the IOEE last year, a decision that goes far beyond his own personal development. Reece says:
“Of course, it’s fantastic for my own CPD. I’ve already taken part in lots of the IOEE’s online courses and it gives me the opportunity to network with people I wouldn’t otherwise have had the opportunity to meet, and the membership also shows that I’m really serious about enterprise and entrepreneurship.
“However, what I’m really excited about is mentoring. I’ve just done the training and gained the professional IOEE qualification, so I’ll eventually be paired up with someone and be able to expand my teaching portfolio to working one-on-one, which will be an amazing experience. I’m incredibly motivated when it comes to my job. This is undoubtedly one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever done, but it’s also undoubtedly the most rewarding.”