Tracey Bleakley, chief executive of pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group), welcomes a significant change in England’s schools
England’s ten-year-olds have had a very good month. They may not know it, but two weeks ago the prospects of millions of them improved significantly, after the government granted a huge victory for the long-running campaign for compulsory financial education in schools.
The new draft National Curriculum will see personal finance embedded in both mathematics and in citizenship education for 11 to 16 year olds for the first time. This significant change means that when today’s ten-year old goes to secondary school next September, they will be entering a secondary education system that for the first time recognises the need to fully prepare them for all aspects of the financial decisions that await them in adult life.
Managing your personal finances is an extraordinarily complex task – and one for which, in too many cases, our current school system is failing to prepare young people. How do I set a budget? What kind of insurance do I need? Is a student loan good value for money? School-leavers face all of these questions and more as they enter adult life, and they need to be given the skills, knowledge and confidence to manage their money and make informed financial decisions.
It was this urgent need that led to the formation of the charity pfeg (Personal Finance Education Group) in 2000. Over the last twelve years, we have trained more than 20,000 teachers, provided more than 100,000 free resources to schools and helped more than three million young people understand more about money.
We have also been working hard to help secure a place for financial education in the national curriculum – because we know that these life skills are crucial for young people’s futures. The campaign has been led in Parliament by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Financial Education for Young People, chaired by Justin Tomlinson MP, with the support of pfeg and MoneySavingExpert.com’s Martin Lewis.
A double victory
With financial mathematics set to be included as part of mathematics and financial capability included in citizenship education for the first time, the campaign has achieved both of its objectives. We are delighted that Ministers have listened on both fronts, and brought England more in line with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who have already embedded financial education into their systems.
The curriculum’s renewed emphasis on mathematics, including ‘financial mathematics’ means that young people will now be taught the ‘factual’ side of financial education – such as understanding the cost of a loan or calculating different energy tariffs – to a greater extent. However, financial decisions rarely have right or wrong answers – which is why it is so encouraging that the more subjective side of financial education has been included in citizenship lessons for the first time.
This welcome news comes at a time when the need for financial education has never been greater. Worryingly, almost half of seven to 16 year olds (43 percent) told us in a survey last year that they worry about money. An earlier survey showed that an incredible 82 percent of 11 to 17 year olds have borrowed money from someone else. Today’s generation of school-leavers face arguably the worst set of economic conditions of any generation since the Second World War. Youth unemployment stands at nearly one million, and those young people lucky enough to be in employment are facing a toxic combination of high rents, rising transport costs and squeezed wages.
No-one is claiming that financial education is the only answer to these complex social problems – but it can make a significant difference to young people’s life prospects. By embedding these vital life skills in both primary and secondary schools, we can ensure that future generations enter adult life much better equipped to maximise their opportunities and survive and thrive in our economy.
The new draft curriculum is now open to consultation, and our top priority in the coming weeks will be to use our experience of financial education to try and maximise the benefit that the new curriculum content will bring to young people. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to get this right.
This is, however, only the first step in pfeg’s wider campaign for financial education to be taught in every school in the UK. Securing a place for personal finance in the national curriculum is a big leap forward, but with a growing number of academies and free schools able to set their own curricula, the goal of financial education for all young people still lies some way ahead.
We now have the opportunity to build on this success, and extend the benefit that last week’s announcement will bring to millions of children in maintained schools to every young person in the UK. For their sake, this cannot come soon enough.