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All credit to school unions

The number of people seeking help from the Citizen's Advice Bureau has doubled in the past eight years, with the charity dealing with pound;1.4 million worth of new debt in 2006.

But moves by Bannerman High in Glasgow, which last week joined a growing band of schools setting up in-house credit unions, could help avert a life of crippling debt for many of its pupils.

Every week, its students squirrel away part of their pocket money or earnings. Teachers will be able to join and will be offered a comparable interest rate to that on the high street and an opportunity to borrow double their savings at a reasonable rate.

The Bannerman Credit Union is linked to the Baillieston Credit Union, a voluntary-run savings scheme based nearby, and its volunteers will visit the school at lunchtime on Wednesdays to train and support pupils.

Over the past 10 years, BCU has built up a membership of more than 2,500.

Last year, it handled savings of more than pound;750,000 and paid out loans of pound;500,000.

"The Baillieston Credit Union was set up so that those denied a bank account, because they were unemployed, had an opportunity to save and borrow," says Mary Gallacher, volunteer treasurer of the organisation. "All members have a common bond: they live or work in the area. It is a way of encouraging better financial management."

For those at Bannerman, the common bond is the school. Pupils will be encouraged to save through the PSE programme, while the union will be run by a group of third years, all of whom will gain valuable financial experience.

"Last year we had the Greater Easterhouse Money Advice Project lead a three-week programme on financial responsibility for our third years. It was well received," says Mark Symon, principal teacher of guidance at Bannerman. "We have completed the programme with the current third years and have now set up our own union to encourage better financial understanding."

Lochend Community High and St Paul's High this week launched their own credit unions in partnership with Easterhouse CU and Pollok CU.

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