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Primary Education News
News What aspects of personal and public finance should be taught in schools?
Money makes the world go around and the new maths and citizenship curriculums will reflect this. But what do teachers and finance education experts think pupils need to know?
From the basics of choosing a lucrative bank account to playing the stock market, knowing how to manage your purse strings wisely is an essential life skill for any young person growing up in a nation still struggling to recover from a global economic crisis.
Even Michael Gove agrees, adding personal budgeting and money management to the new citizenship and maths curriculum, starting in secondary schools from September 2014. The education secretary's draft national curriculum states that citizenship lessons should "prepare pupils to take their place in society as responsible citizens by providing them with the skills and knowledge to manage their money well and make sound financial decisions".
As well as learning about wages, taxes, credit, debt and financial risk, key stage 3 and 4 pupils will be expected to solve and devise problems in financial mathematics and understand simple interest.
But is Gove's vision of personal and public finance education on the money? What do students need to know? And why?
Andy Thornton, chief executive of the Citizenship Foundation, a UK charity aimed at developing young people's citizenship skills, knowledge and understanding
The last few years have provided a stark reminder of how the fortunes of public finance can have a direct and devastating impact on people's lives, including their personal financial situations. It underlines how personal finance education is not enough by itself. It needs to be complemented by education about the wider realm of public finance and the economy.
As well as learning about choosing financial products and services, young people need to develop the knowledge and understanding to answer wider questions. For example, what happens to the tax we pay? Why do some people and corporations get away with not paying it? What happens to the money we entrust to banks? How come we hear so many stories about bankers' bonuses yet struggle to get a decent pension ourselves?
Armed with the knowledge and understanding about how and why these things happen gives young people the power to make decisions about financial matters, both personal and public. It also helps them to understand how personal and public finance are inexplicably intertwined, and how the actions of individuals impact on others. In this way, young people become capable of working with others to change things for the better.
Ben Miskell, citizenship teacher at Bradfield School, Sheffield
I teach in Sheffield, a city where a fifth of households live in poverty and 11 food banks have sprung up to cater for families. In times like these we teachers have a tough job making sense of the financial crisis for students in our classrooms. Resources like those from the Bank of England can help, but as a child I remember the school bank of old, with a branch next to the head's office, operated by students. It was a place where we deposited our pocket money and learnt important life skills in money management in the process.
Without it, it's our job as teachers to make sure young people enter adulthood with the resilience to keep their heads above the murky waters of the financial world. Money saving expert Martin Lewis has an excellent free downloadable book on this, as well as teacher activity sheets that are very useful in lessons.
Even with many excellent resources available, it can still be a problem explaining key financial issues to students. In difficult economic times, we have to cover the important basics of different types of lending; APR, mortgages and credit cards. Good quality resources are available from the Nationwide Building Society to do that, but we have to go much further. As an antidote to legal loan sharks, teachers need to make links with their local credit unions, inviting them into the classroom and using their materials as tools. Teachers can search for their local credit unions here. A good example of this type of socially responsible saving and lending is my own credit union here in Sheffield.
Justin Tomlinson, MP for the Swindon North constituency and chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Financial Education for Young People
The maths is the easy bit, applying calculations that students are already making to the financial world. For example, calculating 10% of 100 is the same as asking about borrowing £100 at a rate of 10%. In citizenship, I think that it is less about what topics are covered per se and more about the skills that young people learn.
For me, the main purpose of financial education is to equip people with the skills they need to navigate the increasingly complex financial world in which we live. That means skills like being able to compare phone tariffs and pick the deal best suited to their own needs, knowing when to borrow money and when to save, and also being savvy enough to spot scams. These skills are important. It is about being able to identify and weigh up the inevitable trade offs, be it in personal or public finances. It is about making that informed decision.
Also crucial is the skill of haggling and having the financial confidence to negotiate, be it a package of driving lessons, a phone upgrade or student rent. This is where personal finance skills are the foundations of a whole lot more, including the next generation of young entrepreneurs, something which I am doing a huge amount to promote.
Pete Pattison, teacher and former national lead in citizenship education
While I am glad personal finance education is included in the proposed new curriculum, I am disappointed it has been included in the programmes of study for citizenship. Personal finance education is an important part of a child's education, but it is just that - personal. Citizenship education is about the public and the political.
For example, personal finance education helps students to find the best bank account whereas citizenship education helps them understand the role of banks in the financial collapse. Personal finance education helps students manage their own money, while citizenship education helps students decide how well the chancellor is managing their money and, crucially, what they can do about it if they do not agree with his decisions.
Now, you could argue that it doesn't matter where in the curriculum personal finance education is situated, as long as it is there. However, at a time when trust in politicians and our democracy is at an all time low, we cannot afford to include anything in the citizenship curriculum which will detract from its main aim - to help young people build the knowledge, skills and conviction to play an active and effective role in our democracy.
After all, it was the citizenship skill of campaigning which secured the place of personal finance education in the new curriculum. It would be a mistake if the teaching of these citizenship skills was sidelined to make way for personal finance skills.
However, anything which is in the personal finance curriculum has to be relevant to students' lives today, so it makes more sense to teach students about tuition fees than mortgages. It should give them the skills to spot good financial deals (and bad ones), and it should have an ethical dimension. We've all felt the cost of unethical financial management and students need to think how their personal financial decisions affect others.
Whatever is taught in the personal finance curriculum, it must be learning that is real, rather than contrived. A good example of this is a project which lends students £10 and challenges them to start a real business. This type of real learning is motivating, challenging and builds enterprise skills.
Guy Rigden, expansion director at finance education charity MyBnk
The proposals are positive, but we fear having financial literacy as a bit-part in a broad citizenship qualification may reduce its effectiveness and leave young people's decision making abilities to chance.
At key stage 3, we believe financial education should be kept simple. We do not see the need to stray into other financial products and services as the Department for Education proposes. The aim should be that pupils should be able to understand currency, value and the security features of money, the difference between needs and wants and how to budget and why to save, as well as the main functions of high street banks, what interest is and the difference between a savings and current account.
At key stage 4, we build on this with pupils being able to identify the role of money in society, including the deductions made from salaries and how such money is spent, the choices they need to make, how to prioritise and budget spending choices, the flow of money in the banking system, different payment types and how to use them, as well as different accounts to suit different circumstances.
MyBnk would have liked to see more emphasis on the importance of behavioural change in a young person's relationship with money by facilitating access to saving accounts and creating a culture of saving from a young age.
Financial education is proposed for two school years only but we think of financial education as a continuum, recognising real issues faced at different life stages from direct experience – a first job, going to college or university.
For details on MyBnk's own financial education programme for young people, click here.
Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of financial education charity pfeg
From September 2014, citizenship education will play a key role in giving young people the skills, knowledge and confidence they need to make informed financial decisions. School leavers are faced with a whole range of financial questions as they enter adult life. How do I set a budget? What kind of insurance do I need? Where can I turn if I am struggling to make ends meet? All of these questions and more can be overwhelming if young people are not properly prepared.
The relationship between personal and public finance is a key area that every young person should understand. Tax, public spending and the personal financial consequences of wider changes in the economy are all part of the planning frameworks we have developed to help secondary teachers delivering financial education in the classroom.
David Schofield, group head of corporate responsibility at Aviva
It's helpful to not have [financial education] in just one part of the curriculum. The idea that an understanding of personal finance should thread through all subjects is very helpful. We do that with things like relationships, which shows up in everything from geography to history. What we'd hope is that this sort of financial and economics education could be featured just as much in a biology lesson about eco system services as it might in a citizenship lesson. We would really advocate it being threaded through.