A year on, financial curriculum successful, but flawed

By Marianne Curphey

In 2014, secondary school pupils started learning about money as part of the curriculum. Students learn about money either as part of maths lessons or citizenship classes. From ages 11 to 14, they receive lessons on budgeting, money management and financial products, after which they move on to wages, taxes, credit, debt and financial risk.

Children and teachers agree the lessons have been useful and constructive. However, when surveyed about the programme, many teachers and students said they felt the curriculum could use some improvements.

Programme has shown success
Nationwide carried out a survey among teachers and pupils and found 58% of students thought learning about personal finance would help them become more responsible with money and 74% had been encouraged to save money, thanks to their financial education classes. financial-education-one-year

More than half of the teachers surveyed (63%) said their pupils were thoroughly engaged in the content.

And when MyBnk, a charity that delivers financial education to those 11 to 25 years old, assessed the programme's progress, it found youths had successfully learned how to budget, manage money, use banking services, be alert to scams and understand financial jargon.

Improvements are necessary and wanted
However, many felt the curriculum could stand some improvements.

"Evidence from our research suggests that improvements could be made to make the subject more meaningful," Stephen Uden, Nationwide's Head of Citizenship, said in a public statement.

About 40% of teachers surveyed by Nationwide said they felt the curriculum has not and will not make a difference to the way children view money. Perhaps this is due to the way the programme is set up: an overwhelming majority of teachers and students want financial lessons to be more interactive to get pupils more involved. Students also weighed in on what they wanted to learn from the lessons; saving, budgeting and credit cards were the top three answers.

Additionally, the programme isn't even implemented in about half of schools because many schools are exempt from teaching it. That includes academies, private schools or free schools (funded by the government but not run by the local council), none of which have to follow the National Curriculum, as state schools do.

"Just a quarter of children said they had taken part in personal finance lessons," Uden stated.

Without those skills, students may be ill equipped to handle finances later, Uden suggested.

"The harsh reality is that those with poor numeracy skills are twice as likely to be unemployed and more likely to be in debt," Uden said in his statement.

Lack of funding, lack of stress on the program causes for apathy
Lily Lapenna, chief executive and founder of My Bnk, says while it's good that financial education is in the spotlight, she's concerned that the government hasn't committed any resources to training teachers to deliver the programme.

 "It still feels like a token action, because there is no money to accompany it," she says.

Additionally, she says some schools are unsure how to implement the programme, and between that and the fact that students aren't tested on financial knowledge, some schools may ignore it altogether.

"It is important that we make sure that schools are equipped to deliver it, whether it is by bringing in an organisation from outside, or training teachers themselves, students need to receive high quality financial education," Lapenna says.

School programmes only one piece of the puzzle
The new curriculum will not save everyone from future debt or financial problems, says Matt Hartley, communications manager at the Money Advice Trust, which runs the free advice line National Debtline.

"People will still fall into debt and that is because the majority of people fall into debt because of issues outside their control, for example a health problem or losing their job," says Hartley.

Additionally, it's not only up to primary school curriculums to teach youths about money. It's important in colleges and universities, too, Hartley says.

"It is a welcome move from the government to say that financial education deserves to be on the front line, but it is only the first step," he says. "It needs to be developed all the way through life, including in the workplace, and in primary school."

See related: Should kids and credit cards mix?, Blogger Q&A: How I'm teaching my kids about money

Published: 2 November 2015