Teaching finance must hit the right note

    The new national curriculum for citizenship, which comes fully into force in autumn 2014, is going to be the principal vehicle through which financial education is going to be taught in our schools.

    It aims to ensure that “all pupils are equipped with the skills to manage their money on a day-to-day basis and plan for future financial needs”.

    It all sounds very worthy – who could argue with that objective? – but the devil is in the detail.

    For the past four years we have been delivering Keep the Cash! at schools up and down the country, in a demanding and engaging one day programme which has won plaudits from exam boards, teachers, pupils and professional observers for its quality and effectiveness, so we have a much better idea than most commentators on what it takes to deliver effective financial education, and the new curriculum has set some very tough goals.

    The curriculum document goes on to talk about the need to teach “the functions and uses of money, budgeting and managing risk” at key stage 3, and then further into “credit, debt, insurance, savings, pensions, financial products and how public money is raised and spent” at key stage 4.

    Again, how could anyone doubt the pressing need for every student in the country to have a thorough understanding of all those subjects before they embark on independent adult life?

    But, the issue is much more fundamental than that.

    How are teachers with no previous experience of teaching finance going to deliver their classes and what material are they going to use?

    Anyone who has ever tried to talk to a class about finance will understand how perilous a subject it can be and just how difficult it is to engage the interest of students.

    We all desperately want the next generation of young adults to be financially literate, and the changes in the curriculum are a step towards achieving that, but there is all the difference in the world between expressing a desire for new knowledge and being able to impart that new knowledge in a way that improves real life behaviour, long after the lessons have finished.

    It is not an academic exercise to equip students with the skills they need to manage their money or plan for their financial future, it is a question of instructing them into a complex and interconnected world by a teaching method that is interactive, student focused, practical, technically rigorous and effective.

    The objective of financial education is not to prepare students for exams, but instead to prepare them for life.