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Schools urged to put teacher in charge of finance education

THE Coalition Government's plans to make money lessons compulsory in England come four years after the Scottish Government vowed to build a curriculum that would instil some financial wisdom in younger generations.

Financial education has been part of the Scottish curriculum since 2008, but the pioneering scheme that delivers workshops to 15,000 young Scots is now under threat due to a lack of funding, while another key provider warns that many teachers lack the time and ability to champion the subject.

The Stewart Ivory Foundation is among several programmes that provides financial education throughout Scotland, but one of the few not controlled by a financial institution.

The charity recruits volunteers from the financial sector to talk to sixth-year students over a number of sessions, rather than passing the buck to teachers. But it will run out of money in July 2014 unless the Government steps in. Chairman Hamish Buchan said: "If we're really committed to personal finance education in schools it needs to be properly state-funded and treated as a subject in its own right.

"The big complaint we hear from teachers is that they have so much to get through and personal finance ends up falling through the cracks. If it doesn't have its own exam, it's at the bottom of the pile."

The Financial Education Partnership (FEP), run by the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland (CIBS), now wants every school to put a teacher or even department in charge of money lessons.

It found 40% of schools had nobody overseeing financial education when it ran a pilot of workshops last year, with the majority of volunteers – 71% – experiencing problems when they visited students.

Nearly one-third of schools didn't have the right equipment to host the sessions.

Encouragingly, all the schools the FEP visited had made space for financial education in their curriculum, but nearly one-quarter of students involved wished they had more time to learn about the topics, which included money management, borrowing, financial products and the world of work. Simon Thompson, from the CIBS, said: "Ultimately, financial education will only succeed if a teacher really makes time for it. But, as with so many aspects of school life, we know that teachers can have other priorities. That's why you need to make sure someone is taking responsibility within the school, even if it's only one person."

The relevant authority, Education Scotland, currently leaves it up to schools to decide how they teach money, much like the model proposed for England next year.

Royal Bank of Scotland, Clydesdale Bank and Standard Life have been among those offering books or online courses to help meet the Government's requirements, but Mr Thompson understands why many parents might believe the scandal-hit financial sector was jumping on an opportunity to market itself to an ever-younger audience.

"The FEP is sponsored by a range of financial partners but none of its volunteers represent a financial institute," he adds.

Another concern is that teachers might not be up to the task because of their own financial weaknesses.

Mr Buchan said: "The big question is whether you teach the teachers or bring in outsiders. We've been told that financial experts engage the students far more once they've reached sixth year, and you have to ask if the teachers really are confident enough to do it on their own.

"Their history of financial affairs is probably not great, given how we ended up in such a credit-heavy culture before the crash. If you polled all our teachers tomorrow and asked whether they're happy teaching children about these things, I suspect the majority would say 'no'."

But Louise MacDonald, chief executive of the Young Scot organisation, believes that despite its flaws, Scotland's curriculum has been "leading the way in financial education".

She now believes it is necessary to change the financial industry to empower younger customers.

"Last year, we ran an event with the Financial Services Authority to gather young people's feedback on how the FSA can support young people when dealing with financial services in the future," she said. "A couple of key recommendations of the day included simplifying terms and conditions, and increasing accessibility for young people to open a bank account.

"Events such as this are important to give young people the opportunity to shape and develop services so that they can really benefit from them."

Young Scot also helps to run the Money 4 Life Challenge in Scotland alongside colleges and Lloyds Banking Group. It awards grants to young people to help them set up new money management schemes in their local communities.

The most innovative idea will win the regional heat of the competition in April and put the youngsters through to the national final in London.

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