Test schools on personal finance lessons, says head of Money Advice Service

Tom Wilson
20 October 2016

Secondary schools must be tested on how well they teach children about money if the recent addition of financial education to the national curriculum is to succeed, according to the head of the Money Advice Service (MAS). 

Speaking to the Financial Exclusion Committee, a cross-party group of MPs dedicated to improving financial wellbeing throughout the UK, the MAS’s Caroline Rookes this week said personal finance “is on the curriculum for secondary schools, but it’s not seriously tested by Ofsted. While it’s not tested, schools, perhaps not surprisingly, are going to focus on the results that make a difference”.

She added that a large proportion of secondary schools don’t need to teach children about finances at all, as private schools, academies, and free schools are not bound by the national curriculum.

In a discussion that covered the initiatives she would like to see to improve the understanding of money and financial products among children, Ms Rookes recommended policies ranging from pre-school - mentioning a pilot scheme in Wales to help parents talk about money - to preparing young adults for “the transition to independent living” at 17 and 18.


Primary schools are “key” though parents “more important”

Ms Rookes also called for personal finance education to be added to the primary school curriculum, though she added that the role of parents is “perhaps more important.”

”For me the key is primary schools. Attitudes and habits are set before the age of seven, and we also know a lot of learning happens before 12. So it’s absolutely critical that financial education is taught and taught well in primary schools.”

She recommended more resources and teacher-training, as only one-in-five primary school teachers had been taught how to effectively teach about money.

However, she warned: “Teachers are afraid of maths like a lot of parents are, particularly in primary schools where it’s not seen as necessarily a skill teachers need.”

Warn school leavers of the perils of payday lenders

In addition Ms Rookes told the Committee another priority was teaching people in the final years of school about debt, so they genuinely understand what they might pay for deals from credit card companies and payday lenders.

“When they reach 18 they’re prey to offers of credit and so forth. Like all of us, that decision comes back to haunt them because they don’t get [understand] things like credit ratings,” she warned.

What’s current the state of personal finance education in our schools?

Personal finance education has been on the national curriculum since September 2014, thanks to legislation created in 2013.

The subject is taught as part of “citizenship” for 11-16-year-olds. There’s no personal finance curriculum in primary schools per-se, though money is covered within maths in the national curriculum for primary school children.

Between 11 and 14 (key stage 3), children are taught about the functions and use of money, managing risk and how to budget.

Between 14 and 16, children are taught about income and expenditure, government finances, and how products such as insurance, credit cards, and pensions work.

In primary schools, money is used as a unit of measurement, though there is no specific personal finance curriculum.

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