Classes on Finance ( It All Adds Up

Article excerpt

Byline: By Jane Hall

Personal finance could soon be on the national curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds. Jane Hall looks at why getting young people interested in money matters.

It is no secret that Britain is in financial meltdown.

But it is not the Government that is struggling, it is the ordinary man in the street.

Unsecured consumer debt has passed the pounds 3trillion mark for the first time, and with house prices also at record levels, many are mortgaged up to their eyeballs.

The nation is facing a pounds 57bn pension shortfall with many workers heading towards a poverty stricken retirement. Scores of pension funds have also collapsed, leaving thousands with nothing to show for their years of contributions.

Miss-selling scandals, from endowment mortgages to pensions, have all added to the nation's financial woes.

For many it may be too late to repair the damage. Which is why it has never been more important to get children interested in money.

Unfortunately, financial education is not high on the agenda at most schools. The Department of Education and Employment revised the National Curriculum in 2000 to include citizenship and changes to personal, social and health education (PSHE). Citizenship, which in 2002 became a statutory requirement for 11 to 16-year-olds, covers the rather vaguely defined "responsibilities of consumers, employers and employees," which can include financial services.

PSHE, which remains non-statutory, enables personal finance to be taught at various stages. At one end of the scale, five to seven-year-olds can be taught that money comes from different sources and can be used for different purposes, while at the other end, 14 to 16-year-olds can learn about a range of financial tools and services. But the importance of saving, mortgages, pensions and credit barely gets a look-in. Yet it is these areas which are currently causing most concern for the public, Government and financial experts alike.

All that could be about change. If the Government decides to adopt the radical reforms for secondary education proposed last month in the long-awaited Tomlinson Report, then personal finance in all its guises will soon have to feature on the timetable.

While the report's author, former chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson, didn't mention personal finance by name, one of his recommendations states that "every young person should be able to develop her/his full potential, and become equipped with the knowledge, skills and attributes needed for adult life."

A spokeswoman for Mike Tomlinson says: "What Michael wants is to see some financial literacy so people can understand areas like mortgages, interest rates and percentages. This would be included as an element under mathematics, but it is one of the areas that needs to be worked on if these proposals are taken forward."

Schools and financial experts agree that making personal money part of the curriculum for 14 to 19-year-olds is a step in the right direction.

Wendy van den Hende is chief executive of the Personal Finance Education Group (PFEG), a charity whose mission is for all young people to leave school with the confidence, skills and knowledge they need in money matters so they can participate fully in society.

She says: "Learning the rudiments of how mortgages, credit cards and investments work, and the importance of saving, is crucial for young people, whether they leave school at 16 or plan to study for an MBA.

"At the moment, finance education doesn't reach all young people. We need to get access across the board."

The hard part will be making it interesting.

Les Hanson runs Fe4, a Newcastle-based company which provides workplace financial education and has also worked with sixth formers in schools and colleges.

He says: "To use a Ruud Gullit analogy from his days at Newcastle United, they have to make it sexy and not just tell students how to open a bank account or get a credit card. …