We’re failing our children with financial education by postcode lottery. The subject finally found its way into the curriculum for secondary schools in England two years ago but if anyone thinks the job’s done, they couldn’t be more wrong.
It’s true that all English comprehensive schools now have to cover the subject within maths and citizenship classes - the devolved nations have been teaching it for years. But there’s no assessment and no mandatory teacher training. Free schools and academies don’t have to teach it either. It’s hardly a winning formula and means that while some schools are teaching the topic brilliantly, others do so abysmally. And there’s little to persuade the latter to do otherwise.
When schools and teachers have so many competing demands on their time from the likes of the Department for Education and Ofsted, it’s understandable that an un-assessed topic not even taught in its own right as an individual subject falls by the wayside. But because of this, we are subjecting our children to a future of financial incapability.
Four in ten adults are not in control of their finances, 21 million families have less than £500 in savings to cover unexpected bills, and eight million of us have problems with debt, the Financial Capability Strategy for the UK says. A third of young adults - those aged 18 to 24 - struggle with over-indebtedness, with the average debt-to-income ratio for 17 to 24-year-olds standing at almost 70 per cent, according to the Money Advice Service and Citizens Advice respectively.
David Cameron is rumoured to be eyeing up causes he can claim for his legacy and surely financial education would be a perfect long-term vision for our children’s and the country’s future prosperity. This government harks on about social mobility and yet it’s turning a blind eye to a vital life skill that could be, and should be, taught in our schools, a skill that could equip the young with knowledge of the real world that employers so desperately want to see in future employees.
It’s a skill that could help young people into great careers or enterprise and unlock their potential. But for some reason, the Government - and all those that have come before it - just isn’t connecting the dots.
Financial habits are formed by the age of seven, according to research by Cambridge University for the Money Advice Service. By this tender age, ‘most children in the UK are capable of complex functions such as planning ahead, delaying a decision until later and understanding that some choices are irreversible’ the study found.
Children of this age are already targeted as consumers. Consider how it has become common place for them to play ‘free’ games on mummy’s or daddy’s iPad that usually come with added ‘in-app purchases’ to unlock features such as extra levels. Late last year Mohamed Shugaa discovered his seven-year-old son had run up a £3,911 iTunes bill by playing the Jurassic World game on an iPad.
These are all reasons why financial education must become part of the primary school curriculum too. Schools at both primary and secondary level must be given the resources to fund the proper teaching of the subject - as argued so well by The All Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Education for Young People in its report published in association with Young Enterprise this week. You can read it here.
I’m a primary school governor myself and I would love to see our school introduce a dedicated programme. I hope it will be able to do so in the near future. But until all teachers – primary and secondary - are offered specialist training and schools receive extra funding, we will continue to sabotage our children’s futures.
Laura Whitcombe is knowledge and product editor at ThisisMoney.co.uk.